Category Archives: Stories

Fatherland [2017]

Fatherland cover

Published: Commando #5053

Art: Ian Kennedy (cover); Rodriguez and Morhain (story)

Writer: Iain McLaughlin

In the previous Commando entry on this blog we profiled Operation Nachthexen, the first Commando to have a female protagonist after over 50 years of exclusively male protagonists. All the same, the main protagonist was still male and the female protagonist was more in a supporting if major role.

This Commando is the first to have a female protagonist who is the star of the show in her own right. It is also the first Commando to have a female antagonist.

Plot

In March 1933 Hitler and his Nazi Party gain absolute control over Germany (and absolute is the word). For Hans Fischer, a German diplomat and Nazi living in London, this means benefits and promotion, but his Nazism is tearing his family apart. Hans’ wife Elizabeth is British born and therefore does not support “that funny little man Hitler” (say what?). She is appalled at how her husband has changed for the worse since he embraced Nazism, and with fanatical zeal. When Hans says they are all moving to Berlin so their children, Kurt and Lisa, can be brought up as proper Germans (Nazis, he means!), Elizabeth tries to do a runner with the children. Unfortunately she only succeeds in getting Lisa away. Kurt remains in the clutches of his fanatical Nazi father, which does not bode well for him.

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Ten years later World War II is on, and Lisa (now Fisher) joins the fight against Hitler. As Lisa can speak German, she is chosen for a special assignment. After two months of intense special training, she is sent to the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands, where she goes undercover as Greta Kruger, a German auxiliary the Resistance intercepted. Her task is to work at one Colonel Schaudi’s office to gather information on the shipping. The German supply shipping has the infuriating habit of arriving at different times, which makes it difficult for the Allies to know when to intercept and destroy them. So they need information on the times those ships are coming.

As per training, Lisa also spends a great deal of time observing the routines of the German guards and patrols – with particular attention to the gaps and blind spots that she can take advantage of in order to move around without being caught.

Lisa also has to tread carefully around her roommate, Hannah Muller, who is a committed Nazi and a callous cold fish. Hannah looks upon the islanders as scum who are beneath the superior Germans and badly need German discipline to turn them around. She does not approve of Lisa saving a local boy from being run over by a German motorcyclist (and taking some injury herself) or Lisa going to church.

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Hannah has no idea that the real reason for Lisa going to church is that the minister, Reverend Letts, is Lisa’s contact. Lisa gets the E.T.A. of one German supply ship, the HSK Wagner. However Lisa nearly gets unstuck at the rendezvous on a cliff to pass the information to Rev. Letts when a sentry catches her. She ends up slugging him and he falls to his death at the bottom of the cliff. As predicted, Schaudi puts the sentry’s death down to an accident (and orders it to be hushed up because he does not want the islanders to hear about such embarrassments). But Lisa and Rev. Letts are not going to use that cliff for a rendezvous again.

Lisa’s information enables the Allies to succeed in intercepting and destroying the Wagner. But when word reaches Berlin they (correctly) suspect their security has been compromised and send in one of their leading and most ruthless SS Oberfuehrers to investigate the matter. And guess who it is? Yep – Lisa’s father! What’s more, Lisa’s brother Kurt is in tow too, as an SS Hauptsturmfuehrer on Dad’s staff.

Lisa is unaware of this complication as she gathers evidence that the Germans are going to use the Channel Islands as a stockpile for German weapons. Rev. Letts tells Lisa the RAF is going to bomb the munitions store that night and she is required to light flares for them to see by.

Finding pretexts to get away from Hannah for night missions has been another problem for Lisa. The first time, Lisa said she was laid up because she was injured from the motorcycle incident, which worked. But the second trick – giving Hannah drugged coffee – does not. By the time Lisa is at the rendezvous lighting the flares, she finds Hannah has followed her; obviously she smelt a rat and has now discovered everything. A fight breaks out, and Hannah ends up out cold due to Lisa’s superior fighting training. The ensuing bomb raid does the rest in finishing off Hannah. Lisa then proceeds to frame Hannah for everything in order to cover her tracks.

The frame-up of Hannah works, but Lisa is in for a shock at the debriefing over Hannah – her SS father and brother. Fortunately they do not see through her disguise, but she realises their presence is now making things too risky for her. Things get even more risky when Schaudi wants to plant Lisa on the church as a choir member because he suspects it is linked to the Resistance.

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Orders come for Lisa to be withdrawn because of the increased risk. A plane will come for her in two days and the Germans will discover her ‘fall over a cliff’ later. During those two days, Lisa is appalled to see what a pair of vicious bullies her father and brother have become, as shown in the way they treat the islanders.

Lisa has one final task on the night she is to go: steal detailed orders of naval schedules from Schaudi’s office. Unfortunately Kurt has picked that night to start changing the guard routines, which impedes Lisa’s progress in getting away to meet the plane after stealing the papers. At one point she has no choice but to slug a guard, and she barely makes it in time for her plane. Unfortunately, Hans and Kurt discovered the guard, which alerted them, and now they arrive on the scene.

Still thinking she is Greta Kruger, Hans confronts her about her treason to the Fatherland. A moment later, Hans is quite taken aback and confused when she suddenly starts calling him “[Daddy]” and confronts him on the way he ripped his own family apart in the name of Nazism. Kurt, however, immediately understands what it’s about.

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As the family squabble unfolds, it becomes clear that years of abuse and bullying from Dad are responsible for Kurt being a bully himself. However, unlike the merciless Nazi fanatic father, there is still good in Kurt, and now it comes to the surface. He cannot bring himself to send his own sister to the firing squad and finds the courage to say this to his bully father. Dad’s response is more bullying of Kurt: he lashes out at his son and knocks him to the ground. He then points his gun at Lisa, telling her that she’ll be interrogated until she talks and all the rest of it. Moments pass as they just stare down each other. However, those moments give Kurt time to recover and he shoots his father dead to save Lisa: “Your cruelty and obsession has hurt me on many occasions. You will not do this to my sister.”

Kurt helps Lisa to escape and cover it up afterwards. He declines to go with her as he is still loyal to Germany, but promises to find her after the war ends. As Lisa flies to safety, Kurt silently wishes her luck.

Thoughts

It is not surprising that the first Commando to have a female lead as the main protagonist puts her into undercover work and espionage rather than into combat as the male protagonists most often are in Commando. It also makes a change from making her a Resistance fighter, as girls’ comics so often did. Lisa is working with the Resistance, but she is in the role of the specially trained operative sent in by Intelligence, so we get insights into how the British Intelligence and special operatives worked from that meticulous military Commando research. We also see several of the techniques and tips Lisa provides from her special training, such as familiarising herself with the guards’ routines in order to get around them and how to handle interrogation. And the scene where she beats up that callous Hannah is absolutely priceless! Though Hannah does not get the chance to do anything that’s actually horrible as the Fischer men do, her unfeeling, arrogant remarks and her Nazi devotion make us all yearn for her to get her comeuppance.

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Lisa’s mother Elizabeth is of course the other female protagonist in the story. We really feel for the mother as we have seen so many similar situations in stories of domestic violence and parental abductions. She is faced with an increasing shadow of domestic violence from a husband who is turning bad, and then it’s compounded by the threat of being dragged off to a grim life under the jackboot of Nazi Germany. She attempts a desperate flight from that life and tries to save her children, but it’s heartbreaking to see she is only half successful. She failed to save Kurt because of his childlike naivety in hopping out of the car and asking Dad where they are going. This of course tipped Dad off at once and he threatened to take the kids away to Nazi Germany without her and she would never see them again. Mums and Dads who have lost their children to international custody disputes and parental abductions would really feel for her there and applaud when she at least manages to save her daughter. But we can imagine her heart must have been bleeding at being forced to leave her son behind and imagining what his upbringing will be like in Nazi Germany under his increasingly tyrannical father and without any motherly love. When we see how Kurt turned out because of this, Mum had every right to be concerned and how Lisa had such a lucky escape in not being dragged off to Nazi Germany as well.

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Kurt Fischer is another first in Commando: he is the very first sympathetic SS Officer to appear in Commando. Up until this point, whenever Commando used stories with sympathetic German WW2 soldiers, it made a strong point of never, ever using sympathetic SS or Gestapo officers. The sympathetic German soldiers always came from the forces and were portrayed as fighting for their country rather than Nazism and disliking the SS and Gestapo for their brutality. Sergeant Oskar Dietrich in Entry Forbidden! is one such case. SS and Gestapo officers in Commando were always just like Hans Fischer: cruel, brutal fanatical Nazis with no mercy or redeeming qualities whatsoever. They are shown to be bad because they have always been bad, such as Max Rudel, also from Entry Forbidden!

But this is not the case with Kurt Fischer. When we first see him as a kid, he looks such a sweet kid (unlike Max Rudel in childhood), and we are really worried about him when he gets left behind with his fanatical Nazi father. Sure enough, he’s the mirror image of his bullying father years later, but that’s because he’s an abused child. After the separation he was dragged off to Nazi Germany where he suffered a miserable, terrifying life under his bullying father and without even his mother to give him love. If Dad had married again, we imagine it would have been someone like Hannah Muller.

Yet Dad had not destroyed all the good in Kurt with his bullying. And we imagine that deep down, long-standing resentment from years of abuse is yearning to break out and take revenge. Both come to the surface when he is confronted with his sister and the fate she will face if Dad arrests her. When Dad shows utter lack of mercy towards his daughter, it turns out to be the last straw for Kurt. For all the bullying Kurt did earlier, we really cheer for him when he strikes back at his bully father by shooting him, and he redeems himself.

Even Hans Fischer may be a tad more tragic than SS officers in Commando usually are. Usually they are just simply bad, irredeemable characters like Max Rudel. However, the line “Elizabeth was shocked by the changes in her husband since he became involved in Chancellor Hitler’s party” hints that Hans may have been once a better man. However, becoming a fanatical Nazi destroyed all that. His fanaticism led him to destroy the family he probably once loved very much, and ultimately that same family destroyed him.

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The ending was crafted in a manner that left scope for sequels. So we might see Lisa again in a future Commando. Or we might even see Kurt in the first-ever Commando to use a sympathetic SS officer as the main protagonist. Certainly there have been serious questions raised about the consequences of that night for Kurt, which could be developed further. It’s all very well for Kurt to say he can’t go against his country, but he will find it’s not going to be that simple and he can’t really carry on with the SS the way he did before. The good in him has awakened now, and he will have to work on it if he is to keep his promise to his sister to reunite with her. After all, she’s not going to be very impressed with him if he continues to shove the islanders around or run up a list of war crimes a mile long. Besides, he now has a terrible secret that could have him executed, blackmailed or going on the run if someone finds out, and that worry is going to be a huge shadow over him. And now that Dad’s bullying dominance is gone, Kurt is more of a free man to make his own decisions. We do have to wonder if the SS was Kurt’s choice of career in the first place or if bully Dad forced him into it. It would not be surprising to see a future Commando where Lisa goes to the rescue of her brother. We shall just have to wait and see.

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Operation Nachthexen [2013]

Operation Nachthexen cover

Published: Commando #4599

Artist: (cover and story) Carlos Pino

Writer: Mac MacDonald

Plot

In 1940, a dogfight with superior German Me109s goes badly for Pilot Officer Drew Granger and his unit. He is the only survivor, but his left arm is disabled from enemy fire, and the psychological damage over losing his entire unit makes him lose his nerve for flying. So he is deemed unfit to return to active service.

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So when Hitler launches Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, Drew is dispatched there to help the Russians because he has some background in the Russian language. However, Drew is still affected by his shattered nerve, and his command of Russian is not as good as the Allies think. The Russian commissioners are quick to realise this, so they are not impressed with him. Among them is Captain Gleb Revnik, who has a dark secret: he ran during a fight with the Germans. And Major Zubov, who has a knack for hearing tales about lack of will to fight, has men shot for running. Zubov is another commissioner who does not think much of Drew.

Then Drew is further injured during a German air raid on a Russian airfield. While recovering he is visited by a female Soviet fighter pilot, Yana Belinky, who fortunately can speak English, and they strike a friendship. When Drew recovers, he discovers the entire unit consists of women (whom the Germans call Nachthexen [Night Witches]), which he finds strange. He is concerned that their aircraft are nothing but dated PO2s (nicknamed “corn cutters” by the Russians and “sewing machines” by the Germans). All the same, they are still a vital part of the Soviet airforce. The Nachthexen pound the Germans during the night, and have worked their way up to become an effective fighting force against the Germans. Their ageing aircraft have the advantage of flying slow and low, which makes them a difficult target for the faster Me109s; they stall if throttled back too much. Another advantage of the PO2s is that they are invisible on enemy radar because their construct is canvas and wood rather than metal.

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Revnik realises that Drew still hasn’t regained his nerve, and his arm, which was reinjured in the airfield attack, is troubling him as well. Drew feels useless and is ashamed to see Yana seems more resilient than he is to losing comrades and getting injured in dogfights. Revnik decides to write to Zubov about it when the time comes. In the meantime, he is pleased that Zubov’s focus on Drew and Yana is diverting him from any potential rumours about his secret.

Meanwhile, Drew begins to suspect Revnik is up to no good. Indeed, Revnik wants to bring Yana down because of her aristocratic family background during the days of the tsars. Zubov also has his doubts about her loyalty.

Then Yana says she is not flying because there is nobody to team up with. Drew volunteers to fly with her on a raid on a German communications post, and he will handle the PO2 machine gun. Drew finds that even going through the instrument panels and controls scares him when he once found them second nature, but there is no backing out. Revnik is delighted at the prospect of getting rid of them both, and suspects will be too.

As the flight unfolds, Drew finds his nerves are doing better than expected; even his disabled arm is. The advantages of the PO2 enable Yana and Drew to reach their target with little trouble, and they soon destroy it despite a strong attack from the Germans. Then they strike serious trouble from a ferocious Me109, and Drew manages to clip it. Later it is revealed that the clipped Me109 crashes on top of Zubov’s vehicle, which kills him.

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However, during the dogfight Yana gets shot and the plane develops a fuel leak. Yana manages to land the plane so Drew can fix the leak, but it becomes apparent her condition is extremely serious. It’s up to Drew to get her back for medical treatment. But this means flying a plane he has never flown before and facing up to his nerve difficulties and problematic arm. At least he gets unwitting help with this from approaching German soldiers, who are out for revenge against one of those hated PO2’s. He has to take off fast or get mown down by their vindictive gunfire.

Drew manages to get the plane back to the airfield, though he too had taken a shot. Both he and Yana need extensive medical care, but he has regained his nerve. Revnik acquires a whole new respect for Yana and Drew and is confident they will both return to the skies. He is also relieved his secret is safe due to Zubov’s death.

Thoughts

This Commando holds a special place in the history of girls’ comics because it is the very first Commando to feature a female protagonist. Commando protagonists (and antagonists) have been exclusively male ever since its launch; appearances of any female characters were fleeting and peripheral, such as mothers seeing their sons off to war.

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The protagonists in this Commando are atypical for another reason: they become recurring characters. Commando protagonists are generally one-offs, but Drew and Yana return in Witch Hunt (Commando #4616) and Warrior’s Return (Commando #4635), with the same creative team.

Although this Commando is the first one to use a female protagonist, the focus of the story remains firmly on the male protagonist, Drew Granger, and his fight to regain his nerve and resume flying combat. In the meantime, he is the fish out of water at the Russian airfield. His Russian is not good enough, he can’t join the fight because of his shattered nerves, he feels useless and out of sorts, he is a target of personal and political agendas of two commissioners, and he is handicapped by an impaired arm. Drew also feels shame at how Yana is such a contrast to him. While he can’t regain his nerve she always jumps back on the horse after it throws her, never gets the loss of comrades get her down, and can face down injuries with such utter stoicism.

How Drew regains his nerve is well handled. It does not come all at once, which would feel trite. It comes in stages during the flight with Yana, but it takes a real life-or-death situation to really force Drew to face up to his problems – fly the plane and get back to base, regardless of them all – because their lives depend on it.

As the focus of the story is on Drew, we get little feel of Yana’s character. Sure, she is stoic, courageous, quick-witted, resourceful, and has nerves of steel, but that’s about it. She does not get much development, and gets no thought bubbles for us to see how she thinks or show the human side of her. The only glimpse of it is when we get a hint that Yana is more affected by the loss of her comrades than she admits: she responds abruptly to Drew when he tries to sympathise, and apologises later.

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Revnik is perhaps more developed than Yana because he gets thought bubbles for us to read, and these help to round out his character. When we learn his terrible secret and the fate he dreads, we may either develop some sympathy for him or we may hope he gets found out and shot because of his plotting against Drew and Yana. However, the respect he eventually gains for both Drew and Yana in the end turns him into a sympathetic and more likeable character. We end up feeling relief that Revnik’s secret is safe, with Drew’s unknowing help.

Unfortunately I do not have the sequels to comment on how the relationship and characters of Drew and Yana developed, or whether Revnik went on to become a good friend to them. Nor can I say whether any romance between Drew and Yana blossoms in the sequels, which is something readers might expect. For their first story there is none.

Paula’s Puppets [1978]

Sample Images

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Published: Jinty 4 February 1978 to 22 April 1978

Episodes: 12

Artist: Julian Vivas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De poppen van Petra [Petra’s Puppets] (in: Tina 1979, Tina Topstrip 54, 1983).

Plot

Paula Richards has come out top athlete at Handley Athletics Club and has a very jealous rival in Marnie. Paula’s father is a prominent man because he owns the biggest toy factory in town. Unfortunately Dad has spoiled Paula ever since her mother died, so she’s a bit on the selfish side. For example, Paula just finds it boring to hear that her father’s factory has taken a downturn in recent months instead of worrying. She isn’t too worried either when a fire burns Dad’s factory to the ground; she just tells him the insurance will put everything right.

For everyone else, though, the fire was the worst thing that could have happened because the factory was the source of the town’s employment. Now they are rendered jobless and there’s no other work around. Then nasty rumours go around the town that Dad burned his own factory down for the insurance; even the housekeeper Mrs Black believes it and walks out on the Richards family. Dad is getting really down but Paula is merely angry over Mrs Black and thinks it’s just a stupid fuss over a “silly old fire”. She goes off to the burned out factory, where she finds some wax puppets that have survived the fire. She gives vent to her anger about Mrs Black by making one puppet look like her and giving it a big fat wart on the nose.

Then Dad really is charged with burning down the factory and protests his innocence as the police take him away. Everyone turns against Paula when word about it spreads. Dad has no chance at his trial; everything seems to point to his guilt. Even Paula thinks the jury is right when they find him guilty, and she turns on him as well.

Meanwhile, Paula is very surprised to see Mrs Black has developed a swelling on her nose, which looks just like the wart she moulded on the puppet. Paula now begins to wonder if the puppets have some sort of power, and whether she can use it to get revenge on the town.

The only friends Paula has left are club coach Joanne Phillips and her father, who was her father’s partner in the business. They take her in, and Joanne encourages Paula not to give up her athletics. However, the girls, led by Karen Thompson, want Paula out. They refuse to run in the relay team unless Joanne gives Paula’s place in the team to Marnie. Joanne refuses to give in to their blackmail while Paula angrily walks out – and towards the puppets for her revenge. She models one on Karen and mimics Karen getting a sprained ankle from a fall in the high jump. This is precisely what happens to Karen later. So the puppets’ power is definitely for real.

Paula is too angry to realise some of the girls have become apologetic, including Karen before the fall happened. Lindy seems more sympathetic, but something makes Paula so ruthless that she nobbles Lindy during the hurdles. An inquiry is now pending and Paula is in danger of being banned. She begins to wonder if the puppets are a bad influence and she should stop using them. But she does so anyway, with a puppet made to look like Lindy. At the inquiry, she directs the puppet to have Lindy say it was a mistake. It works, but Lindy has now lost her sympathy for Paula. Paula wonders if she should destroy the puppets while Joanne advises Paula to stop thinking everyone is against her.

That advice is hard to take when Paula sees “Get out of Handley, Paula Richards” daubed on the old factory wall. Two girls, one of whom resembles Lindy, wrote the graffiti, and passers by just let them go because they are hostile to Paula too. Paula goes back to the Lindy puppet for revenge, but gets really scared when she gets startled and drops the puppet.

The hurdles race is being re-run, and this time Paula resolves to win it fairly. But the other girls are not, what with hiding Paula’s running gear in the gym attic and taking the ladder away when she tries to retrieve it. Lindy comes in and offers to help by crossing a beam. Paula sees the beam looks dangers, but finds she can’t make a sound when she tries to warn Lindy – and then realises why when she remembers her own words of revenge against Lindy just before she dropped the Lindy puppet. So the beam cracks under Lindy and she falls to the floor, which renders her comatose. The girls confess to the trick on Paula, while Lindy’s brother blames Paula for the accident, but out of the bitterness towards her father: “We heard how Lindy risked her life for the daughter of a jailbird!”

Paula tries to destroy the puppets but finds they won’t burn. So she decides to give up the athletics club because of the hostility towards her that tempts her to use them. However, Joanne is not having that and wants Paula to enter a cross-country championship. Paula agrees, but starts ducking out of school to train for the event because she wants to avoid temptation to use the puppets because of the bullying at school.

Meanwhile, Paula’s athletics club enemies have begun to notice a pattern about the things that have happened to them and are beginning to (correctly) suspect Paula has something to do with it. One girl, Rhoda, puts her name down for the cross-country event so they get another chance for revenge. They also discover Paula is playing truant in order to train, and spitefully sneak on her. When Joanne hears, Paula makes the excuse that it was the bullying, which Joanne finds understandable. She withdraws Paula from school and teaches her at home. Paula also starts getting personal training from Joanne, but does not realise Marnie is spying on her and trying to figure out her weaknesses.

Discovering there is still no change in Lindy’s condition, Paula decides to see if the puppets can be used for good for a change. She dresses one like Lindy and another like herself, and mimics Lindy waking up when she goes to visit her in hospital. She does not realise Marnie is trying to spy on her while she is doing this. After Paula leaves, Marnie investigates the puppets’ hiding place. She thinks nothing of the puppets she finds, but takes the puppet made to look like Paula for her kid sister.

Paula succeeds in waking up Lindy, and in doing so finally discovers the joy of helping people. However, she soon finds this does not improve people’s attitude towards her. Lindy’s brother remains as hostile as ever towards her, and has the hospital ban Paula from seeing Lindy.

Then Paula discovers that Marnie has taken the puppet she had made to look like herself. She manages to sneak into Marnie’s flat and retrieve the puppet without being detected. But she is very surprised to find Marnie lives in such a shabby, rundown place and overhears it’s because that like everyone else in town, Marnie’s family have been driven into poverty and no job for the father after the factory fire. Marnie moans at how Paula does not understand poverty because she has always lived in luxury, and that she had always taunted her for dressing shabbily.

Paula realises Marnie is right and now understands why Marnie hates her so much. Recalling how she had taunted Marnie about wearing tatty plimsolls just before the fire, Paula decides to give her a present of her spare pair of plimsolls to make amends. But Marnie just throws it in her face and Paula soon finds out the reason why – everyone but her (Joanne wouldn’t tell her) knows that her father has just escaped from prison!

Thinking that getting her father recaptured is the only way to make everyone stop hating her, Paula turns to her puppets to do it. Later, when Dad shows up, he protests his innocence and asks for her help in proving it, but Paula turns him in. Dad is deeply hurt, which has Paula believe him for the first time and she now hates herself for what she did.

The newspaper prints the story of how everyone’s hatred drove Paula to betray her father. This has the athletics club girls repenting how they treated her and now wanting to be friends. They invite her to Lindy’s “welcome back” party, but things get ruined when they start whispering as to what a crook her father is. Paula sticks up for her father and then walks out.

She asks the puppets for help in clearing her father, at which one of them walks to the puppets’ prop box and points to it. Inside she finds a letter to Mr Phillips that she cannot understand. The correspondent says that in accordance with the instructions of Mr Phillips’ last letter, he is cancelling all future supplies of raw materials to the factory. Now what the heck does this have to do with Dad’s innocence?

Paula takes the letter to Joanne for help in understanding it. Joanne gets upset when she reads it and demands to know where Paula got it. Of course she does not believe Paula’s story about the puppets and thinks it was all crazy imagination. This leads to Joanne having a big argument with her father; she tells him it can’t go on and it’s having Paula imagining things. Next day, Paula finds them both gone to attend to some business, and nobody to cheer her on when the cross-country event begins. Paula’s heart is not in the race, and it shows – but then Dad appears to cheer her on! Now Paula is spurred on to win, and she does.

Dad explains that Mr Phillips burned down the factory to cover up that he had been embezzling from the factory; the letter was proof he had been cancelling orders for raw materials and withholding the money. He did not mean Dad to take the rap, but had been too frightened to confess. However, Joanne, who has had her suspicions about the embezzling, has persuaded him to do so. So Dad has been vindicated and released.

Joanne now tries to leave town as she thinks Paula no longer wants to be her friend. However, she misses the train because she went back for the puppets as a memento of Paula, which enables Paula to catch up and prove she still wants to be friends. Paula believes it was the power of the puppets that made Joanne miss the train. Joanne seems to believe in their power now and asks Paula if she still needs them. In response, Paula leaves the puppets behind at the station for someone else in need of help. Hmmm…

Thoughts

There have been countless stories in girls’ comics about dolls/puppets with supernatural powers, but this is the only Jinty serial to use the theme. The serial is even more unusual for not following how the formula is used. The cover introducing the serial says the puppets have evil powers, but as the story develops they do not come across as evil. Usually evil dolls/puppets in girls’ either exert an evil power over the protagonist that forces her to act nasty or out of character, or they cause trouble, mayhem or destruction for our protagonist. But that is not the case at all with these puppets. They do have powers, but how their power works depends on how they are used, which can be for good or evil. It depends on the intentions and scruples of the user, and how carefully he or she thinks before using them.

In the hands of Paula Richards, we are deeply worried as to how things will go with the puppets. Paula, though not downright nasty, is definitely spoiled and selfish. Moreover, she has good reason to be bitter and vengeful, what with everyone turning against her because of something that she is not responsible for. This could easily send Paula down an extremely dark path. Even a good-natured girl could find it hard to resist the lust for revenge against the way all these people are treating her.

Admittedly, some of the hostility may have been Paula’s own fault for not being very nice to people to begin with. We see this in the case of Marnie. From the beginning, Marnie comes across as a spiteful, jealous girl who is taking advantage of Paula’s downfall to make things even harder for her. It’s a surprise when we learn that Marnie did have a reason to hate Paula in the first place because Paula teased her over her shabby gear.

It’s also surprising to see that the terrible consequences of using the puppets for revenge and personal gain are what begin to turn Paula around. She tries to stop using them, but really she can’t avoid temptation to use them against the people who hate her because it’s everywhere and there’s no hiding from it. So she hits on the idea of trying to use them more wisely, and it works. Paula also begins to open her eyes to how there are people who are less fortunate than herself and no longer puts them down as she did before. Sadly, her efforts to reach out to them and help them more go unappreciated because they feel nothing but hate and bitterness towards her. Joan’s advice that acts of kindness will make people less nasty towards her proves to be woefully inadequate because everyone’s just too full of hate. It takes the shock treatment of seeing what they drove her to – turning her own father in – to make at least some of them stop and think.

The other theme in this story – clearing a wrongly accused father – also breaks with the formula that girls’ serials usually follow when they use this theme. Usually it is the daughter who believes the father is innocent, sometimes when nobody else does. This is what sustains her throughout the story, but Paula does not even have that. She believes her father is guilty too, which makes her even more bitter because she feels he’s let her down. In effect, she disowns him and does not even visit him in prison. It takes the shock of how she hurt her father and his frantic pleas of innocence to finally get through to her. And she finally does what she clearly should have done in the first place – turn to the puppets for help in clearing up the trouble. And would you believe they held the solution to the problem all this time – the evidence in their box! All Paula had to do was ask.

Having it turn out the protagonist was staying with the people who were responsible for her father’s false imprisonment all this time is not an unusual one; “The Girl with the Power” from Tracy is one example where this happened. What is unusual is that these are people with a conscience who are struggling to find the courage to put it right. Until they do, they are pillars of support for Paula and the only friends amid all the enemies she has in town. Usually they are unscrupulous crooks who not only take advantage of the father taking the rap for them but also take advantage of the protagonist as well. Again, “The Girl with the Power” is one example of this.

The final fate of the puppets – being left for someone else needing help to find – also goes against the usual formula of evil dolls/puppet serials. Usually they either get destroyed or lose their powers, but neither happens. The story ends on a worrying note that they might end up in the wrong hands; perhaps even with somebody with no scruples at all. We can only hope Paula is right in that they can influence whom they end up with because that person needs help.

Nobody Loves a Genius! [1974]

Genius cover

Published: Commando #824, 1974

Reprinted: Commando #2084, 1987

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover); Pat Wright (story)

Writer: R.A. Montague

Special thanks to Colcool007 for credits

Plot

Sergeant Jim Bates is in a platoon in the 8th army led by Commander Paul Rowland in the North African campaign against General Rommel “The Desert Fox”. But for them, a more aggravating problem than Rommel is Private Hubert Wellington, “the most gormless, useless lump Jim had ever come across”. Hubert is a walking disaster area, which is due to gawkiness and nervousness rather than stupidity. He is arguably the worst soldier in the platoon and seems quite oblivious to it.

However, Hubert has a good nature, and he does have his uses. For example, he has a magic touch with anything mechanical and can repair vehicles. All the same, only Jim has any patience for Hubert and tries to turn him into a soldier; the others all think Hubert’s efforts help Rommel more than them. When Hubert’s gormlessness blows up the lieutenant’s jeep with a Panzerschrecker (the German version of a bazooka), the lieutenant decides he has to go, and puts him into an explosives course in Cairo.

Genius 1

After North Africa, the platoon goes on to fight in the Italian campaign. However, they keep running into booby traps set by a German explosives expert nicknamed “Wehrmacht Willi”. His nickname comes from the signature he always leaves with his work: “Ein Geschenk von Willi” [a present from Willi]. Willi’s booby traps are soon their biggest dread.

Then they run into someone else – Hubert Wellington, who had requested permission to rejoin the platoon. Hubert came out top in his explosives course, and is soon put in charge of setting booby traps for advancing Germans. Unfortunately Hubert overthinks things and does not set the explosives directly on the path but on the sides of it as he thinks the Germans would not take the direct route in case of a trap. They should have, but they take the direct route, bypassing the explosives completely. At least the platoon manages to fend off the Germans.

Next, the platoon approaches an old ruin that they suspect the Germans are using as an observation post. When they investigate the window they set off a booby trap, which alerts the Germans to open fire. After the barrage ends they send in Hubert to check for more booby traps. Jim is amazed at Hubert’s new calmness as he deactivates three more booby traps, which have Willi’s trademark signature.

After this, Hubert is appointed platoon explosives expert, and he gives the impression he is coming into his own at last. Hubert is soon setting up his own booby traps for the Germans and leaving his own signature a la Wehrmacht Willi. The thinking behind his traps is very ingenious and is getting into the heads of what the enemy will think when they approach the traps. Hubert’s nervousness is not a problem when he is busy, such as setting or deactivating traps.

But when Hubert has a lapse into nervousness because he’s not busy, it gives the platoon’s position away to the Germans, and they open up a ferocious barrage. The commander has serious thoughts about throwing Hubert out again, but Jim persuades the commander to give him more time to boost Hubert’s confidence.

Genius 2

The advance starts again. The platoon has the job of keeping a bridge secure, but first they have to reach it. Their advance on the bridge grows fretful because of Hubert getting nervous again, which is what makes him such a problem. But things change when they advance the bridge and Hubert is quick to check the track for booby traps. Sure enough, it’s been rigged with Wehrmacht Willi’s handiwork, and very skilful handiwork it is too. The commander thinks Willi moves around quite a bit and wonders why.

The Germans arrive and prepare to destroy the bridge because of the advance. The platoon soon deals with them. Then evidence emerges that Willi has been setting up charges to destroy the bridge by remote control, so it’s Hubert’s job to deactivate them all. He does so in the very nick of time – the remote control is triggered just as the last charge is defused.

But just as they finish with the explosives, the Germans open fire again. As the advance guard has not arrived, the platoon has to fend off the Germans alone, but they manage to do so. Hubert’s own booby traps repel any returning Germans, and he also gets the final triumph, with another Panzerschreck. The platoon has the bridge clear and secure by the time the advance guard finally arrives.

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They then stumble across another building the Germans could be using as an observation post. So they need to check it, but they sense a trap. The German soldiers fire shots from the building and then flee. Nonetheless, they feel this is where the remote control was activated, which means Willi and his booby traps could be around. So it’s a job for Hubert, who makes fast work of deactivating Willi’s traps. But there is someone upstairs, so Jim and Hubert go to investigate. Hubert says he is no longer scared, and from then on his nerves cause no more trouble.

Upstairs they capture Wehrmacht Willi himself, just as he is signing his last-ever booby trap. Jim is astonished to see that Willi is almost a twin for Hubert Wellington, only he looks even more of a nerd. The platoon can’t stop laughing when they see what the dreaded booby trapper actually looks like, but Hubert doesn’t get the joke at all.

Thoughts

Commando definitely meets “Revenge of the Nerds” in this issue. Although Hubert’s nerves and gawkiness gets on everyone’s nerves, the most irritating thing about him is that he is, in modern parlance, a nerd. Even after he overcomes his soldiering problems and becomes a model soldier, the others still find him a bit annoying because he’s “a bit of a genius”.

Genius 4

The same could be said for Willi. When Willi is finally revealed to be a nerd too, and presumably got left behind by the other German soldiers because of it, you can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for Willi. We have to wonder if Willi’s platoon ridiculed him a bit for being a nerd, despite his genius in setting booby traps. Could Willi have even had similar problems to Hubert and given his platoon aggravation before he discovered his own genius for explosives? Willi and Hubert are such peas in a pod in terms of genius, talent, appearance, and even in the way they think that you sure suspect this was the case.

Many Commandos go for grim and dark stories, but this one goes for more humour with the Gomer Pyle-type. Eyebrows are raised when Hubert is put on the explosives course. It sounds about as prudent as putting the Jinx from St Jonah’s on one. So it’s quite a twist when the explosives course proves the making of the kluzty Hubert Wellington. It doesn’t come all at once though; Hubert still has to overcome the nerves that made him such a disaster area to begin with and he still has lapses into his old jinxing. It’s quite realistic and credible for the making of Hubert Wellington not to come all at once but to develop through the fight against Willi.

Genius 5

Even more humour comes from the final twist in the story and the joke that the irony has pulled on everyone. During the course of the story the commander comments that “Maybe [the Germans] haven’t any Hubert Wellingtons on their side. I wonder if they’d like one – free.” Little does he know that the Germans do in fact have a Hubert Wellington, in the form of the “Wehrmacht Willi” they dread so much. When this is finally revealed, the platoon realises that “even Hitler’s got ‘em!”. So it seems that even Hitler gets his share of nerds.

Always a Prisoner [1981]

Commando cover

Published: Commando #1502, 1981

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover), Alejandro Martinez Ruiz (story)

Writer: Bill Fear

Reprint: Commando #2828, 1995

Plot

Harry Dane’s lot always seems to be brutal imprisonment, with him shoving his fist at it whenever he can. Harry begins to go this way in 1935, when desperation makes his friend Ted Taplow steal £15 from work to pay off a gambling debt while knocking out the elderly cashier in the process. But when the alarm is raised and police are searching all the men, Taplow panics and plants the money on Harry to save himself. Harry and his protests of innocence do not have a chance in court, not least because he cannot understand how it happened.

Prisoner

Harry spends five years in “one of the hardest, grimmest prisons in England”, and the prisoners’ lot is harsh, backbreaking quarry work. While in prison, Harry’s cellmate, “The Prof”, helps him to figure out Taplow framed him. From then on Harry is fuelled by a near-monomaniacal determination to make Taplow pay, which helps him to survive. However, it also drives him into an escape bid that fails, and because of it he has to serve his full sentence before he can confront Taplow.

When Harry is released in 1940, it is World War II. He finds Taplow has gone into the army and his battalion is stationed at Hong Kong. He joins Taplow’s regiment in the hope of tracking down Taplow, and his brutal prison experiences help him adapt quickly to basic training and army discipline. He also fends off bullies who pick on a weedy cadet, Archie Duckfield, and he and Archie become friends. Harry’s battalion does meet up with Taplow’s in Hong Kong, and he finally finds Taplow (now an NCO). He then proceeds to give Taplow a revenge punch in the face.

Inevitably, this gets Harry court martialled, and he is sentenced to 12 months. The guards hate Harry for striking out at an NCO, so they go out of their way to break him, with little regard as to how they do it. Harry responds with thoughts and threats of punching them, and he has plenty of experience in handling prison brutality. Fortunately for Harry, Japan begins to attack Hong Kong, and all the soldiers in the detention barracks are released to join the fight.

Prisoner 2

So now it is Archie and Harry’s first action, which goes badly, and Hong Kong falls. They are forced to retreat, and in the end the Japanese capture them. Now Harry faces a whole new brutal imprisonment, in the form of a Japanese POW camp and all the conditions Japanese POW camps are infamous for. But this time there is a consolation: Taplow has been captured too and is now a fellow prisoner, right alongside Harry!

When Archie hears about Taplow’s frameup of Harry, he points out something Harry had not thought of: get a confession out of Taplow to clear him. But although Taplow’s guilt is obvious from his body language, Taplow makes it obvious that he will not be easily persuaded to confess. Rather, Taplow is desperate to get away from Harry as much as the prison camp. He breaks out with several others, but the Japanese guards catch up and slaughter all but Taplow. He is brought back to the camp and sentenced to death. Archie and Harry save Taplow because they want that confession, but the ungracious Taplow refuses to give it. All they can do is hide Taplow in the roll call under the alias of Dyson and keep a close eye on him.

Prisoner 3

Then the commandant is ordered to send the most able-bodied prisoners to Japan for slave labour. Harry, Archie and Taplow/Dyson are among those selected. They are locked into the sweltering hold of a rusty tramp steamer for the journey, which soon leads to an increasing mortality rate. Fortunately, fate intervenes in the form of a US submarine that torpedoes the steamer, which enables the prisoners to make a break for it. Harry and Archie find a raft, and pick up another prisoner in the water, Claude, which will prove very fortunate for Harry. Claude tells them they are not far from the Chinese coast. If they can make it, they stand a chance of escape.

Then they find Taplow about to be eaten by sharks and rescue him. Taplow’s water/shark ordeal has broken him down enough for them to finally succeed in getting a verbal confession out of him. Now all they have to do is get Taplow somewhere to make a written one.

When they reach the coast, Japanese soldiers arrive on a motor launch, looking for survivors from the prison ship. But Harry is not having another round in a Japanese POW camp; he says he has had enough of prisons. After getting a rifle off one of the Japanese soldiers, Harry uses it to take out all his long-standing anger against his brutal imprisonments straight out on the Japanese soldiers.

Unfortunately Taplow panics and gets shot dead when he tries to run. With Taplow gone, there can be no written confession and Harry is despondent. Archie consoles him with the thought that at least he and Claude know the truth.

Prisoner 4

They make their way to the Japanese motor launch, and nobody seems to be there. But Archie discovers otherwise when a solitary guard on board shoots him dead. Harry and Claude are so enraged that they pump all their magazines into the soldier. After burying Archie, they make their way to China on the motor launch, where they meet up with Chinese forces and safety. Soon they are back in England.

Claude testifies on Harry’s behalf about the verbal confession Taplow made. As he is Lieutenant-General Sir Claude Trelawney, V.C., his word carries weight, and Harry is cleared of his wrongful conviction. Harry is promoted to sergeant, gets a medal and leads the regiment on D-Day.

Thoughts

This was the first-ever Commando I bought because it had themes that appealed to me: wrongful convictions, imprisonments, and struggles to survive and escape. It also has slave story elements, so it may have drawn some inspiration from girls’ comics. Yet there is still plenty of action in it – mainly from Harry Dane’s angry fist or his rifle when he has one – to keep the boys happy. The story clearly draws inspiration from “The Count of Monte Cristo” as well, which has always been a popular story.

Indeed, we see echoes of the Count (Edmond Dantes) in Harry himself with his early reactions to his false imprisonment. Like Edmond Dantes, Harry cannot understand the circumstances of his false imprisonment. He is still a good-natured naïve, trusting fellow who does not realise the one he trusted most is the one who is responsible. Like Dantes, it is not until he talks it over with another prisoner who can provide the right insights that he works out the truth. And like Dantes, it is from that point on that Harry becomes the angry, embittered man who is out for revenge.

Unlike Dantes, however, Harry never quite gets to the point where he fears things have gone too far and whether he really is in the right to pursue revenge. This could be due to Harry’s change of tactics towards Taplow. At first he is merely out for revenge against Taplow, which he expresses by beating him up. But when Archie points out that only Taplow can clear him by making a confession, Harry becomes more restrained towards Taplow and does not abandon him to his fate when his life is threatened. The only time Harry’s lust for revenge really gets out of hand is when he lashes out against the Japanese soldiers towards the end and pumps them full of lead. And it’s not even personal – he’s just taking out all his rage against all the prison guards in his life out on them. At least it sounds like Harry begins to find peace once he gives vent towards his anger. And he certainly does once his name is cleared: the story tells us he is a “changed man”.

Prisoner 5

The story certainly makes a strong statement about the evils of prison brutality and human rights abuse. Still, it would be foolish to expect much from the Japanese guards of the POW camps. They had a different way of thinking that made them particularly cruel to their POWs during World War II. Perhaps we should not expect much of the HMS prison guards either. This story was set in the 1930s, and harsh prison conditions and treatment were considered more the norm than they are now. It is the guards of the army prison who come across as the most repugnant out of the assorted prison guards that Harry encountered. While the other guards are pretty much the same in how they treat Harry and their other prisoners, these guards deliberately go out their way to break Harry in any way they can out of pure viciousness.

As for Ted Taplow, the man responsible for all of Harry’s troubles, the only point in his favour was that he was driven into stealing the money out of desperation. The bookkeeper’s goons were leaning on him and making threats that he would end up in the river if he did not pay. He did not intend to slug the cashier, an elderly man. He only did so because the cashier had caught him by surprise and he felt he had come too far to turn back. Otherwise, Ted Taplow comes across as a despicable, cowardly, unsympathetic character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He shows no remorse or guilt over what he did, or what Harry went through because of him. And he was supposed to a good friend of Harry’s, the two having been mates since school. He refuses to confess at all, not even when Harry and Archie save him from the death sentence. He only confesses because his defences have broken down, but we don’t trust him to keep his word to make a written confession once they return home. Getting shot while running away is a fitting end to a man who is at heart a coward and a weasel, and we are not sorry he died. Yet Taplow’s death is shattering because Harry’s chance of that written confession died with him, so it is one of the powerful dramatic points in the story.

The death of Archie Duckfield is even more powerful. Archie’s death is absolutely gutting for everyone because he is such a likeable, sympathetic character and had a somewhat nerdy look. Initially this made him a target for bullying, but Harry helped him there and we sense he grows into a more confident character, though there is little room in the story to develop this more. He also provides light relief against the grimness of the story, as does Harry’s cellmate, The Prof. The Prof comes across as a father figure. Although he is in for counterfeiting, we warm to him immediately because he is a likeable, sympathetic character. He likes to help prisoners out with their problems, which makes him even more sympathetic. He is definitely the equivalent of the Abbe Faria from the Count of Monte Cristo in the way he helps Harry to work out Taplow committed the crime he was convicted of.

Prisoner 6

When Claude is introduced, his level head and his quiet modesty (not revealing himself as a senior officer and a knight to boot) are a welcome, calming contrast to the rage of Harry Dane. And when we see Claude’s leadership qualities and resourcefulness as they fight for survival against the Japanese soldiers, we can see why Claude has risen so far in the army.

The Prof, Archie and Claude don’t just provide light relief and offset the anger and bitterness of Harry Dane. All three of them, in their own respective ways, help Harry to clear his name. The first helps Harry work out the truth, the second points out a confession from Taplow is more in order than mere revenge, and the third provides the vital testimony to clear Harry.

It is ironic that Harry owes many of his qualities as a soldier and a survivor to Ted Taplow. If Taplow had not framed him, Harry would never have gone through the experiences that toughened him up physically and mentally to endure the rigors of basic training, the horrors of POW captivity, survival on the run, and ultimately to lead the regiment on D-Day as a sergeant. Had Harry simply carried on as a factory worker until World War II broke out, it is less likely that he would have cut it so well in the army. And he naturally comes to appreciate freedom and there are things far worse than being in combat. As he takes his regiment up Normandy Beach, his words of encouragement are: “Come on lads. There’s far worse places to be than this one. I know – I’ve been there!” One can only hope he was not captured again and found himself in a German POW camp.

Darling Clementine [1977-78]

Sample Images

Darling Clementine 1Darling Clementine 2Darling Clementine 3

Published: Jinty 24 December 1977 to 1 April 1978

Episodes: 15

Artist: Richard Neillands

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Fifteen-year-old Ella Peters is an intensely shy girl who used to cling to her mother, but the mother is now dead. She has been in a children’s home since her mother’s death, but then her cousin Clementine Bradley (Clem for short) and Uncle Dave give her a home.

Ella and Clem hit it off immediately. Ella is impressed at how Clem is the darling of everyone. She has a charm that works on everyone, and she is full of confidence, which sets an example to Ella that will influence how she grows in confidence during the story. Everything looks so rosy for Ella now; she is too shy to make friends but she can do it through the popular Clem, and she is so happy.

But storm clouds just have to gather around. Uncle Dave, a miner, develops a lung disease from years of coal dust exposure, and the polluted smoky mining town is making it worse. A move to the country is badly needed, but Uncle Dave hasn’t the money for a country cottage. Then Clem sees a way to raise the money when she sees a water-skiing contest advertised, with £1,000 as the top prize.

Clem can’t waterski, but her mind is set. She dashes off to join the water-skiing club at Ladenford Lake, and never mind that it is an extremely exclusive and ultra-snobby club. Her charm persuades the snobby manager to let her join the club despite her lack of pedigree background, and he is so entranced he even gives her waterskis and a spare wetsuit. Clem gets Uncle Bill to provide a speedboat so she can start practising, and Ella is backing her all the way. Clem is soon making good progress in waterskiing.

Then disaster strikes. While Clem gets ready for another practice, an arrogant girl cyclist comes bowling along and deliberately knocks Clem clean over. Clem ends up hitting her head on a tree and falling into the river. When Clem is plucked from the water, she is in a deep coma. But that isn’t all. Uncle Bill was nearby and mistakenly thinks he saw Ella push Clem into the river deliberately when in fact Ella was trying to push Clem clear of the cyclist. Uncle Bill could not see the cyclist because the trees cut off his view of her. He has Uncle Dave believe it too, and Ella’s protests of innocence with Uncle Dave just lead to rows. Uncle Dave even bans Ella from visiting Clem in hospital. When word gets around, poor Ella finds herself an outcast at school and in the community, and she is estranged at home as well.

And there is still the matter of how to win the much-needed prize money. As Clem is out of action, Ella bravely decides to train for it herself. It’s a tall order as Ella is not only shy but also scared of water and she has force herself to swim more confidently. Uncle Bill won’t help with the speedboat, but Ella manages to get help from Jim, the son of the waterskiing club caretaker, after she helps him against some bullies. Ella gradually improves and even overcomes her fear of water. But girls from the posh club overhear Ella saying she is winning the prize money instead of Clem and spitefully take back the gear that was borrowed from the club. They say she can’t enter the contest anyway because only club members can enter.

When Ella sees her uncle’s condition is worsening, it renews her determination. She takes on two jobs so she can raise the money for waterskiing gear and subs to join the club. She finds courage in approaching the club, but gets turned down because she is not upper class. She encounters more nastiness from the snobs, who throw the last leaflet about the contest out the window so Ella can’t verify if it really is for members only. Fortunately Jim rescues the leaflet, and Ella discovers that the snobs had lied and it is open to any entrant. Well, well, well!

Ella resumes her waterskiing training with Jim’s help, but the snobs find out. They spitefully try to get the caretaker sacked and tell Ella they’ll keep on doing it until either Ella gives up waterskiing or Jim’s father gets the sack. However, Jim’s father suddenly gets another job, so that’s the end of that blackmail.

While Ella does her training, another waterskiier passes by – and Ella recognises her as the cyclist who knocked Clem into the river. She tackles the girl, a Val Lester, who eventually says she might confess if Ella will do some “little jobs” for her. After a whole week of skivvying and slaving for Val, there is still no confession, but Ella still doesn’t realise Val is just taking advantage of her and has no intention of confessing.

At her training, Ella unwittingly gets too close to one of the snobs and knocks her off balance. The snobs accuse Ella and Jim of doing it on purpose and say they will go to the police. Fortunately a Councillor Dickens witnesses the incident and informs the police it was an accident.

Ella now has a whole new confidence now she has Councillor Dickens on her side. She tells those snobs that she is not scared of them anymore. Moreover, she has finally woken up to how Val is just stringing her along and tells her to do her own dirty work.

Uncle Dave suspects Ella is up to something and thinks it has something to do with thefts at a hotel near the lake. He kicks Ella right out of the house, but allows her back once Jim informs him about Ella’s waterskiing. What’s more, there is good news about Clem – she is beginning to wake up and calling for Ella. Unfortunately Uncle Dave misconstrues what Clem says in her half-conscious state as evidence that Ella pushed her. Ella snaps and tells Uncle Dave that she is winning the prize money for his sake. After some investigating Uncle Dave believes it is true, but will not accept the money. Ella continues with her training regardless, and also visits Clem in hospital, who has lapsed back into her coma, in defiance of Uncle Dave’s ban.

Then Uncle Dave finds out about the secret hospital visits after Ella sprains her ankle on the hospital steps. The injury also impairs her waterskiing. Ella bravely goes into the waterskiing heats while she still has this injury, but of course it’s no good. She passes out because of her injury and is out of the contest.

Ella now turns to getting Clem out of her coma, as Clem is the only one who can clear her name. She brings in a tape of speedboat engine noise to bring Clem out of the coma, but Val discovers what Ella is up to and switches it for one of her own tapes. She does not want Clem coming out of her coma and telling the truth about the accident. Ella discovers who pulled the switch when she finds the initials “V.L.” on the tape, and Val doesn’t deny it when Ella confronts her either. Ella gets another recording of speedboat noise, after initially overcoming a bout of shyness over approaching the club secretary for help there. Uncle Dave has banned Ella from seeing Clem, so she has to get a nurse to play the tape to her. Later, Ella finds spiteful Val has told tales on her secret visits to Clem to Uncle Dave.

The tape brings Clem out of her coma. Unfortunately, Ella gets over-excited about pressing Clem to tell Uncle Dave the truth and clear her name. She did not think that it was too soon after Clem woke up, or that Clem’s memory would be clouded. And Clem can’t remember what happened, so when she comes home, Ella has to do something to help her remember.

So Ella takes Clem back to the very spot where it happened – and who should show up but Val Lester herself! This brings back Clem’s memory, and Val brags that she did it too. Val tries to bluff her way out of it, saying people will just think Clem is trying to shift the blame from Ella if she tries to tell them the truth, and there is no way she is going to confess. But Uncle Dave has followed and heard everything – and so has a passing policeman! The policeman takes charge of Val. What happens to her is not revealed, but she is not seen again in the story. Val’s exposure cuts no ice with the snobby girls at the waterski club, who remain just as nasty to Clem and Ella. Ella readily forgives a very apologetic Uncle Dave.

Despite her long illness and missing the heats, Clem is determined to enter the competition and win the money for her father. Ella asks Councillor Dickens to pull some strings so Clem can enter the finals despite missing the heats. Clem realises what Ella did for her and comments on how her shy cousin has become so spunky. Ella says it was due to necessity from what followed in the wake of the accident.

Unfortunately Clem just isn’t up to scratch to win the contest and is placed third. However, a reporter learns why it was so important for Clem to win the money and publishes a newspaper article on “The Dashed Dreams of Darling Clem”. It touches the heartstrings of everyone in town – not to mention their guilty consciences over the way they wrongly blamed Ella for Clem’s accident – and cash donations begin to pour in.

Soon there is plenty of money for a cottage and Uncle Dave’s health improves once they move in. There is no room for three, but Ella says that does not matter. She is now so confident about standing on her own two feet that she moves into the new girls’ hostel. She won’t forget her relatives though, and will visit them often.

Thoughts

It is obvious from the start that we are going to have a story about an intensely shy girl who is embarking on a journey to discover her self-confidence. But the twists and turns that the journey takes are ones that could have totally destroyed the shy girl instead of helping her to grow and learn to believe in herself. After all, the ordeal Ella goes through is hardly one to boost self-confidence – being wrongly accused of deliberately putting her own cousin in hospital and people turning against her unjustly. Moreover, it’s Ella’s own relatives that have wrongly accused her, so not even her home life brings her any respite against the cloud she’s under. The only things that stop it from destroying her are the determination to win the prize money for the ailing Uncle Dave and the example Clem had set to Ella about having courage and self-confidence. Several times in this story Ella has lapses of nerve and shyness in her quest to win the competition, but all she has to do is remember Clem’s example and show “some spunk” like her.

Though she probably does not realise it, the shy Ella further develops her courage by constantly standing up to Uncle Dave in protesting her innocence. Ella also develops backbone in learning to stand up to Val. Once she sees through Val’s blackmail, she has no hesitation in telling her to get off and shoves that dirty laundry Val wanted her to clean right in her face. Oh, there are so many blackmail victims in girls’ comics that we so wish would stand up to their blackmailers like that!

Learning to water-ski also helps Ella to develop her self-confidence even further. To begin with, it motivates her to overcome a fear of water. As her water-skiing improves, it boosts her self-confidence as well. But this is the only good thing that really comes out of it for Ella. It is sad, but very realistic, that no matter how hard Ella tries, she could not get up to the standard that would enable her to win the competition. Even without her injury, Ella could never have won the competition because she was not a natural at it like Clem, much less have what it takes to be a champion that would wow the judges.

If not for Val Lester, Clem could have reached the standard that would win the championship and the prize money for Uncle Dave. But the story avoids the cliché of the protagonist rising out of her wheelchair and beating all odds to win the prize money. Instead, it has Clem more realistically lose with a noble but doomed effort because she had insufficient time to get up to the standard required. However, it leads to events that do help to raise the money, so it was not in vain after all.

Val Lester certainly is one of the slickest schemers to appear in Jinty. Whenever Clem or Ella thinks they’ve got her where they want her, Val is extremely crafty at bluffing or conning her way out of it. Even when Uncle Dave finds her out, she keeps her cool and arrogantly tries to bluff him too, saying nobody will believe even him. But even Val can’t get past the policeman (though his presence feels contrived as there is no explanation or credible reason for it). There seems to be no other reason for Val’s attack on Clem than sheer snobbery. She just does not want Clem in the club. It’s not because she’s jealous or looks on Clem as a serious rival in the competition. One can imagine the reputation the waterski club would have gotten in the wake of all their nastiness to “common scum” in their club and Val’s campaign against Clem and Ella. Perhaps someone (Jim maybe?) will take a hand in forming another waterski club in town that welcomes anyone.

Jinty was big on sports stories, and many of her sports stories had more uncommonly used sports (judo, netball, skateboarding) as well as stories on more traditional sports such as hockey, ice-skating and swimming. This story uses water-skiing, which was an extremely unusual sport to use, and examples must be rare in girls’ comics. Although “Darling Clementine” does not seem to be as well rememembered as some of Jinty’s sports stories (“Life’s a Ball for Nadine”, “Concrete Surfer”), using waterskiing as the sport does make it quite novel, as do the breaks from common cliches in girls’ comics in favour of more realism.

Cora Can’t Lose [1984]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 5 May 1984 to 23 June 1984 (should have been 30 June 1984)

Episodes: 8 published, 1 unpublished

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Cora Street is receiving trophies for all winning all the running events at an inter-school sports event, with the as-yet unwon Victory Cup as the ultimate prize for winning all the running events. Cora has her eyes on this cup, and now only the cross-country event stands between her and winning it.

The presenter, Lady Sarah, is puzzled as to why only Cora’s parents are applauding. Not even Cora’s own school is doing so. The girls mutter that it’s all such a drag because Cora always wins. Winning is all she cares about, and this has made her unpopular at school. One of the girls then says she can remember when Cora didn’t win anything and never minded it at all. She wonders why Cora has changed so much.

Cora overhears the girls and goes off into a flashback of how things used to be and the reason for the change. It turns out that her parents are to blame. They kept putting Cora down because she was not winning sports trophies as they did when they were at school. Dad is particularly cruel: “Cora couldn’t beat a team of infants in a spoon and egg race!” he snarls as he prepares to throw his prized trophies into the loft because “now they remind me of something you’ll never do – win!” Cora puts them back, begging her father to give her more time.

To stop her parents’ meanness, Cora resolves to win a trophy of her own. At least she has been told she has what it takes to be a strong sports competitor and just needs to try harder. So she begins to do so, and she makes it to the school swimming team. But does this impress her parents? It should, but Dad just says, “Team hard-up then? You might be taking part, but you won’t be winning, will you?” Evidently, only winning a trophy will win their respect.

But Cora soon finds even that’s not enough for her parents. When she wins her very first trophy, from the swimming, Dad just sneers at it because it’s not a big one. Realising she has to win something bigger, Cora joins an athletics club on top of her swimming club. There she wins an impressive cup, but Dad is still sneering: “Little and large! I can’t imagine you ever winning another cup! Ha, ha!” Cora gets so angry at her father’s nasty remarks that she goes on a full-scale crazy cup-winning binge to win any cup she can get so she will have even more cups than her parents combined.

So now winning cups and her parents’ respect is all Cora can think about now and that’s the only reason she competes in any sports event. She has no team spirit and does not care about her athletics club, swimming club or the sports team, or helping them to win any events. One girl leaves the athletics club because Cora’s cup-winning obsession is not giving others a chance. She also neglects her friends and does not care for them now, and soon her best friend Sheila is the only friend she has left. Cora grows increasingly unpopular all around, with a reputation as a selfish glory-seeker who only cares about winning trophies. Cora, who once didn’t mind losing, can’t bear the thought of doing so now. Her motto is “Cora Can’t Lose” because she genuinely believes she cannot lose. Moreover, her parents are taking such pride in Cora’s victories that they are spoiling her like never before, so Cora thinks everything’s perfect.

Or so Cora thinks. Her cup-winning obsession is reaching far more dangerous levels than unpopularity. During a sports trial she falls and takes a blow to her head. Her crazy obsession manifests itself again when she says she is upset about having lost the event, not about her injured head. She refuses to be driven down to the hospital to get it checked out, but later that evening she collapses. When she wakes up in hospital, she runs off because she is more concerned about missing out on sports practice than anything being wrong with her (which she thinks there isn’t). However, there is indeed something very wrong with Cora: her X-ray shows she damaged her skull and she is living on borrowed time until she has an operation. But the hospital can’t tell her because she’s gone and they have no clue as to her identity. They can only hope “the young idiot” will return once she gets the danger signals of noises in her head and vision problems.

However, the hospital staff do not realise just how much a “young idiot” Cora is. She is so obsessed with winning trophies that she ignores these danger signals or puts them down to minor things such as nerves. Her obsession gets even worse when she hears about the Victory Cup and how even her mother failed to win it (which can only be done by winning every running event at the inter-school event, including the cross-country event). So naturally Cora is riveted on winning the Victory Cup because it would win her the ultimate respect from her parents.

Cora’s head and vision problems grow worse and worse, although they don’t play up all the time. Even cup-obsessed Cora can’t ignore them when she suffers temporary blindness. Eventually Cora decides to go back to the hospital – but only after she wins the Victory Cup. Cora even disregards an identikit the hospital issues in order to find her. Winning the Victory Cup is all that matters to her. She does not stop to think that if the hospital is having an identikit of her being broadcast on television, there can only be a serious reason for it.

Cora’s last friend in school, Sheila, is getting suspicious and worried about these disconcerting health problems she has noticed about Cora. But when Sheila tries to tell the sports mistress, Cora has the teacher believing that Sheila is just jealous. After this, Sheila finishes with Cora too.

At first everything goes smoothly, with Cora winning running cup after running cup, although nobody but her parents cheers for her. But at the second-to-last event, Cora’s head problems act up big time, and she thinks they might have unwittingly caused her to spike her main rival. But she just carries on, as winning is all that matters to her.

As the first episode shows, Cora is not disqualified because of this. She wins all running events on the field and only has the cross country to win before she claims the Victory Cup. But this is all that is known about the resolution of the story. The final episode never got published because of an IPC strike that lasted for weeks. By the time it was settled, they did not resume Tammy. The reason was that Tammy had been due for cancellation and merge into Girl II in August, but then the strike intervened in June. After the strike was over, they decided not to complete the stories because it would have taken even longer to finish them. Everything was left unfinished.

Presumably everything comes full circle to Cora finishing the flashback that started in episode one. The final episode then carries on from there to whatever catches up with Cora first: the head injury or the Victory Cup. Or maybe they both hit at the same time e.g. Cora collapses from her injury just as she crosses the finishing line.

It can be safely assumed that Cora receives the operation in the nick of time, but it is an extremely near thing. The Street parents are humbled and ashamed at how they nearly killed their own daughter with their pride, arrogance and bullying. If Cora resumes her sporting career, it may also be assumed that the old and new Coras blend together to become a strong competitor who can take losing gracefully when the occasion arises, is fairer to fellow competitors, and patches things up with her friends.

Thoughts

Even now, former Tammy readers are still left dangling on the penultimate episode and hope the question of what happened in the missing final episode will be answered one way or other. “Cora Can’t Lose” has gained infamy because of her final episode being cut off by the strike when so many Tammy readers (including me) were on the edge of their seats, and just dying to see whether Cora would win the Victory Cup or if the head injury would finally catch up and put her back in hospital first. Currently the best hope of an answer is Rebellion, which has already recovered and published lost material from Scream!, which got cut off in a similar manner to Tammy.

If anyone can provide information about the lost final episode, please do so! We would just love to know, even after all this time.

“Winning is not everything” as the saying goes, and this story is a warning note about what can happen when you become obsessed with winning. However, the warning is not for glory-seekers like Yvonne Berridge in “Curtain of Silence” but for egoistical parents who keep driving children to win at all costs, including the children’s own welfare. There are so many real-life parents like the Street parents who are too demanding, keep pushing their children to win all the time, and are mean to them when they don’t win. It is also a lesson in hubris, and how terrible the consequences of hubris can be.

Even though Cora’s obsession with winning cups is selfish, irritating and dangerously irresponsible, she remains a sympathetic character because we know who’s responsible – those parents of hers who keep putting her down, just because she’s not winning anything like they did. They don’t even appreciate it when she does start winning. They show no consideration for Cora’s feelings or that they are hurting her with their sarcastic remarks. She just has to feed their egos more and more in order to stop their sneering once and for all. She’s not winning trophies for the sake of glory and ego but to earn respect from her parents and stop their mean criticisms. And it is their fault her life is in danger because of her cup obsession, as they are the ones who drove her into it.

Winning turns into a reckless obsession that has Cora grabbing trophies to the exclusion of all else. Cora not only loses all trace of common sense but also all sense of caring about others, sportsmanship and team spirit. She does not even care how unpopular she has become because of her conduct. For this reason she is heading for a serious fall and she does deserve one, though what started it all still makes her a sympathetic character. Cora’s fall is coming through the head injury she is neglecting in the name of the Victory Cup and her parents’ respect. Hopefully, there will still be an answer as to how Cora’s fall actually unfolds and whether or not it stops her winning the Victory Cup.

Daddy’s Darling (1975)

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Published: 8 March 1975 – 16 August 1975

Episodes: 24

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Lee Simons is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, though not all is smooth sailing in their lives: her elder brother Peter was knocked over and killed while riding his bike and a year later, Lee’s mother dies of an illness that presumably she was not strong enough to fight off due to sadness. Lee and her father only have each other now – well, actually, Mr Simons has got the munitions factory and the large house too, not that Lee is all that bothered about those things. She would rather make her own life and choose her own friends – at least, this is the case by the time she is thirteen and has had five years of stifling over-protectiveness to cope with.

At the beginning of the story, though, the war gives her unexpected hope. First her governess resigns in order to join the land army, meaning that Lee has to go to the local village school; and then she pulls a fast one by volunteering to host an evacuee (something that her father was very against). She gets more than she bargained for – evacuee Maggie Hope is billeted on them but so is Maggie’s little brother, Joe – the family he had been going to were unable to take him after all. Lee is over the moon to have friends staying, but her father keeps them apart at every opportunity. He sends Lee to school in a chauffeur-driven car and makes Maggie and Joe walk behind even when it is raining; the other school kids taunt and despise Lee for that, even though Maggie sticks up for her. Mr Simons is susceptible to public opinion though, and when he eventually realizes it will look bad for him to keep doing that, he sends Maggie and Joe to school by car as well – but a different one, so that Lee is still kept away from the two ‘guttersnipes’ as he thinks of them.

And so the tussle goes – Lee intervenes with her father to protect and help the two Hope kids, Mr Simons protects and coddles his daughter but in a narrow, stifling way that keeps her isolated from other experiences and emotions, and Maggie and Joe bring more and more excitement into Lee’s life, willy-nilly. Even sending a food parcel to Maggie’s mum in London is a struggle, and it only happens because Mr Simons doesn’t want to look bad in front of others when a newspaper reporter sees Lee trying to post it.

Some fights are won by the kids and some by the father, at least initially. Allsorts, Maggie and Joe’s dog, is sent from London and the kids hide it in the air-raid shelter but of course it is not long before it is found – luckily before he is sent back, he saves Lee from a falling brick wall and so Mr Simons agrees to let the dog stay. Maggie and Lee both write an essay in class about their mothers – Maggie’s is chosen for a class prize because it is so emotionally written. The prize is a tour of a local factory – specifically, Mr Simons’ factory – and he ignores Maggie and only talks to Lee, as if she had won the prize herself. But the factory workers chat to Maggie and take to her, even choosing her as their social club queen.

They have a whip-round too, and Maggie wants to spend the resulting windfall on getting Joe a train set – but with the war on, there is none to be had in the shops for any money. Finally, a moment for Mr Simons to show a different side – out of the blue, he gives Joe the train set that Lee’s dead brother never got to use. Not that he’s softening towards them, mind you!

One incident causes her father to harden further rather than the reverse. Lee is tasked with opening an event – a sale of work – but on the way there , an RAF plane is downed and her clothes are all ruined, either by using them to aid the RAF pilot directly or because she is running across rough land and they are scratched and torn. Despite her heroism the result is that Lee is taken out from the village school and made to have lessons at home again – taken by a snobby maid who has been working at their house but who is a qualified teacher. Miss Johnson (former maid Daisy) is a nasty piece of work, but Lee is not left alone with her for long, because air raid damage conveniently closes the local school and so Maggie and Joe need to join the lessons, much to the disgruntlement of Miss Johnson and of Mr Simons. Young Joe proves to be quite a terror, teasing Miss Johnson with their dog, with a mouse, and with scurrilous caricatures, so quite soon Daisy heads off in a temper. Lee is delighted and although Mr Simons is cross, he is more upset by it being the anniversary of his wife’s death, leading him to snap even more nastily at the two evacuees.

It’s the anniversary of Joe’s father’s death too though, and they find him crying in the village graveyard. Maybe Mr Simons is softening after all – he puts his arm around Joe and even gives some money for the kids to go to the cinema – but it is only temporary and he very quickly turns up at the cinema and separates the two groups so that he has Lee all to himself. Nor will he invite Ma Hope over to visit the two kids, despite Lee’s pleas – but new maid ‘Mrs Watkins’ turns out to be Mrs Hope under an assumed name, come to be with her children. Lee takes to her instantly but they have to make sure that Mr Simons doesn’t find out and send her packing. Of course it is not long before the inevitable happens (a comic set-piece has Ma Hope soaking her feet in a warm bowl in front of the fire when she thinks the master is out for the evening, only to be interrupted by Mr Simons and posh guest).

So Mrs Hope is back in London when further air raids hit the East End, and of course her children are distraught with fear for her. Mr Simons bows to public pressure and has his chauffeur drive them back to their old area to check, but doesn’t allow Lee to go along with them and is not particularly upset when the two run away from the chauffeur to go on looking for their Ma. Lee of course is the next to run away, to find her dear friends – and although it looks like their mother is dead, she vows to stay and look after them so that they are not alone. Fat chance that Daddy will let her alone though: he drags her out and gives the Hopes the ultimatum that they can come to the hotel that the Simons will be at for the subsequent 24 hours, or they can stay and be left to their own devices.

It wouldn’t be a girls’ picture-story without a dramatic ending, of course – so as soon as that ultimatum delivered, Lee finds herself looking with horror at the house that the Hopes are in, as it burns down! Lee runs into the burning building and of course is immediately struck down – while she struggles for her life, Mr Simons has time to realize what a caring and unselfish child he has raised despite himself. And when she comes round, a week later, her new room mate turns out to be Mrs Hope, who is not dead – a wall fell on her and she was injured but not killed by the air raid that Maggie and Joe heard about. In turn, Mrs Hope hears about Maggie and Joe’s deaths in the penultimate episode. The final episode, however, has all being well – Lee and Mrs Hope are both discharged from hospital, Mr Simons continues with his change of heart and invites Mrs Hope to stay with them in the country, and although she says no (most vehemently) once Maggie and Joe are found, safe and sound after all, the grand house is turned in to a Convalescent Home with Mrs Hope as the House Mother. It is no longer only Lee who is Daddy’s Darling, but a wider group including Joe and Maggie and the other kids who will come to escape the war.

Thoughts

This is a long-running serial – not quite one of Jinty‘s longest (see more discussion on this post about story length) but nearly half a year’s worth of story. I don’t remember reading it when it first came out as I was a bit too young, but it must have been a successful product of the Alison Christie – Phil Townsend creative team to have run to that length. Some elements are a little repetitive, as is the danger with something of this length – Daddy’s single-minded attention to only his daughter’s comfort changes only towards the end of the serial and there are perhaps a little too many cases where Lee mourns his lack of caring towards others in similar wording to the earlier examples. But of course this is something that is more obvious on a re-read after the fact than at the time of original publication.

There were only relatively few stories in Jinty that feature the Second World War: “Daddy’s Darling”, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, and “Song of the Fir Tree“. (The first two are known to be written by Alison Christie and drawn by Phil Townsend, so of course it raises questions whether “Song of the Fir Tree” might also be, but it was not listed as such by Alison Christie in her earlier interview.) It feels to me as if in the case of this story it is more of a backdrop than a theme – the other two stories are about war, or about things that wouldn’t have happened without the war, whereas this story is really about a stifling over-protective parent. So this makes it more similar to another Christie story, “The Four-Footed Friends“.

In “The Four-Footed Friends”, the protagonist struggles with her stifling mother, who lost a child to illness and wraps her daughter in cotton-wool as a result; in “Daddy’s Darling” it is the father who is the antagonist that the daughter has to struggle against. This feels unusual: I know of a similar story, Tammy’s “My Father – My Enemy!”, where the socially-conscious daughter saves the workers at the mine owed by her Victorian father (thanks to Mistyfan, in the comments, for supplying further details) but not many others where the father is the blocker. “Dracula’s Daughter” is the obvious exception to that, but it is generally mothers or other women / girls who are the villains and antagonists in girls’ stories. There are a couple of examples of mystery stories where the villain is eventually revealed to be the father (photo-story “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” is one such) or where a husband and wife team are equally to blame, but other than that, the antagonists are more typically headmistresses, female teachers, bully girls, mothers / step-mothers, grandmothers, aunts.

Mr Simons is not particularly evil but he is spectacularly clueless throughout. He does soften towards the two evacuees before the end, but his change of heart is depicted as somewhat out of the blue as it only really comes to pass in the last couple of episodes. In other ways the story develops quite nicely over its length: Maggie Hope is drawn as scrawny and plain to start with, and she becomes much more well-favoured by the end. Is that supposed to be as a result of better feeding than she’d get in the East End of London, or because Phil Townsend forgets to draw her quite as plain as at the start? Either way it works pretty well and matches the growing friendship of the two girls.

The Four Friends at Spartan School [1971-72]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 23 October 1971 to 8 January 1972

Episodes: 12

Artist: Unknown artist – Merry

Writer: Terence Magee

Translations/reprints: None known

Special thanks to Robert Gairey for scans

Plot

Judy Jenkins is a bit uncontrollable at school and likes to play pranks to liven things up and relieve the boredom of school. She isn’t a bad kid; it’s just that her home life is neglectful and unguided what with Mum being dead, Dad being away on business so much, and a housekeeper who looks like she’s pretty much in loco parentis. When Dad gets the latest note from school, he decides that what Judy needs is discipline (not a parent who gives her proper time and attention, saying he can’t do that because of his work). So he sends her to “Spartan School”, a Swiss school that is very strong on discipline, and says it’ll do Judy “a power of good”.

We aren’t so sure about that when Judy and three other new girls (Amanda Rogers, Liz Orton and Sarah Williams) meet school prefect Siddons. Siddons is a cold fish who treats them with such severity she would make a heckling army sergeant look lovable. She says that they are all to take orders from her, and her sharp tongue is nothing compared to what awaits them at Spartan School, which will be “much worse things”. Amanda, who is a weaker character physically and emotionally, is quickly subdued by Siddons’ conduct. But Judy stands up to Siddons and says she won’t be downtrodden by such bullying, and neither Siddons nor the school will frighten her. The foreshadowing of how things are going to go in this story, obviously.

When they arrive at the school, Judy sees some pupils who have just finished their term and are going home. Although they do look disciplined, Judy is disturbed at how frightened and lifeless they are. Siddons tells the new arrivals that they will be just the same by the time Spartan School has finished with them.

Next, Judy meets headmistress Miss Bramble, who has been warned by Siddons that Judy will be troublesome. Miss Bramble tells Judy that she is a disciplinarian who doesn’t hold with “modern soft teaching methods”. She goes on to say rebels do not last long at Spartan School, and Judy will emerge from it a very different person. Siddons has already made it clear this means Judy will emerge just like the broken girls she just saw. The story’s subsequent text boxes say Miss Bramble runs the school like one from the Victorian era, with harsh punishments. Now that has to be an understatement. As we shall see, not even Victorian schools went to the lengths that Miss Bramble does.

Siddons shows the girls their dormitory, and continuing her ruthless army-like grind to break them into the Spartan School discipline. Once alone, the new girls tell Judy disturbing rumours they have heard about Spartan School. Amanda relates a story about a friend who was sent to it. Previously a wild girl, she never laughed or smiled again once she returned from Spartan School.

And the parents? Apparently they have no idea of what the school is like (or don’t believe it). Later we learn that Miss Bramble censors all the girls’ correspondence to their parents regarding her methods. The girls are to write glowing letters saying how happy they are at the school and learning to behave better. And what happens when they go home and tell their parents? By that time, says Miss Bramble, they are completely different people: “obedient and with a respect for authority”. In other words, too frightened to tell anyone.

Judy still isn’t fazed by her first impressions of Spartan School, and neither is Liz, who starts larking around. Unfortunately she accidentally breaks a lightbulb. When Siddons returns, she assumes Judy broke it and Liz doesn’t own up. Judy realises this is because Liz is more scared of the school and Miss Bramble than she is admitting.

In punishment, Judy is forced to stand in the dinner hall with her hands on her head and get no food. The food isn’t bread and gruel as you might expect, but it is bad quality food all the same. From the way the other girls look at Judy while she undergoes this humiliation, she gets the impression that niceness and kindness are unknown qualities at the school. But Judy’s punishment doesn’t end there. When Miss Bramble enters the hall (all pupils have to stand when she does), she inflicts the icing on the cake: Judy has to share a table with Miss Bramble where she gets a meal of bread and water while Miss Bramble gets a gourmet dinner.

Afterwards, Judy says she has never been so humiliated. The other girls are angry with Liz for not owning up and being responsible for what Judy went through. Judy herself is more understanding about Liz being too frightened to own up. Liz feels so guilty about it all that she sneaks to the kitchen to smuggle some proper food to Judy. Liz is disgusted to see how Cook feeds Jason, Miss Bramble’s cat, better than she does the pupils (a plate of the best chicken). Jason’s a real tiger though, and Liz has to run the gauntlet with him in order to get the chicken.

Judy is thrilled with the food and Liz is forgiven. The girls decide to band together in a friendship for standing up against Miss Bramble and Spartan School, and not let it break them.

The first test comes immediately when Miss Bramble and Siddons arrive about the stolen cat’s supper. This time Liz does own up. The girls rally behind her, saying they are all involved, as they do not want Liz to face the punishment alone. Realising the friendship that has formed, Miss Bramble tells them that she does not allow close friendships because these are bad for discipline, and is going to turn them all against each other. To make things even worse, the whole school, teachers and all, have turned against Judy because Miss Bramble is taking her rage over Judy’s defiance out on all of them, even the teachers.

However, Judy is more concerned about Amanda, whose health and nerves aren’t strong. Amanda was sent to Spartan School because her parents thought it would toughen her up, but instead it is making her ill. But the teachers are as cruel as Miss Bramble and show her no compunction or medical attention at all.

In the courtyard, Miss Bramble’s plan to break up the friendship gets underway. She has the girls toss a heavy medicine ball, and the one to drop it will be the victim for the punishment. As the weakening Amanda is bound to be the one, Judy saves her by dropping the ball deliberately and taking the punishment herself. The punishment is putting Judy in the pillory, with the whole school throwing rotten fruit at her. They are only too happy to do so as they have turned against Judy. Siddons orders the three girls to do the same, or Judy will be put in solitary confinement. Their response is to throw the rotten fruit at Siddons. Surprisingly, this results in the whole school rioting against Siddons and the school discipline while the three friends release Judy. But when reinforcements arrive, the other girls go back to their subservient selves and put the blame on the four friends. The four friends are put in solitary confinement, which means being imprisoned in cramped, freezing, rat-infested cells. Amanda emerges even weaker but recovers after a rest, and the others are even more defiant, angry and determined to stick together. Seeing this, Miss Bramble is even more anxious to destroy the friendship because in her view it impedes discipline. This time Siddons offers to have a go at it.

Siddons takes the four friends out for a skiing lesson. There are only enough skis for three, so Judy is excluded. She is directed to go down the slope to check it is clear. She finds it is clear, but when Sarah skis down, a branch hidden on the slope causes Sarah to take a fall. She accuses accuses Judy of putting it there on purpose and turns on her. Judy soon realises Siddons is behind it, and spots the proof – a glove Siddons dropped while taking the branch from the tree – but needs to sneak out and retrieve it if she is to convince Sarah. She succeeds, although she narrowly escapes being caught by Siddons.

Siddons soon realises her trick has failed, but soon has another one brewing: tricking the other friends into distrusting Judy. She forces Amanda to clean windows, despite Amanda telling her that she cannot climb ladders on medical grounds, and her health is worsening. Amanda ends up falling off the ladder, with Judy breaking her fall. Judy covers for Amanda by cleaning the windows herself while the others take Amanda to the dormitory. But she does not realise Siddons is watching and had planned it that way all along. After Judy cleans the windows, Siddons dirties them up again so Amanda will think Judy lied to her. And when Judy sees the look on Amanda’s face when Amanda sees the dirty windows, it looks like Siddons’ trick is going to succeed!

Realising Siddons’ trick, Judy pulls a smokescreen (literally) to cover up the windows looking like they were not cleaned. This succeeds in foiling Siddons and regaining Amanda’s trust. Unfortunately this also earns Judy the punishment that “never fails” at Spartan School – the Iron Mask!

Yes, a real-life iron mask that is straight out of the Middle Ages. Judy is to be locked into this ghastly contraption for two days, with no respite whatsoever. Out of all the tortures that have been inflicted on her so far, this is the one that is the most telling on Judy’s strength. It also makes Judy a target for bullying and cruel tricks from all the other girls, who have grown as heartless and cruel as Siddons because Miss Bramble’s ‘discipline’ has destroyed all sense of humanity in them.

Later, the girls rescue a pigeon from being clubbed to death by Siddons. After they help it to recover, they use it to carry a message for help and hope the message makes its way to a school inspector.

Next day, Judy is almost collapsing under the weight of the iron mask. It makes her so faint that she breaks a flask in science class and sets poisonous fumes off. While the class evacuates, Judy makes her way into the laboratory storeroom in the hope of finding something that will help her get the mask off. She succeeds, and then throws the iron mask down the mountain so Miss Bramble can never use it again.

Terrible punishment for this is inevitable. Sadistic Siddons suggests that the girls be allowed to choose the punishment as they all think Judy set off the poisonous fumes on purpose so she could get rid of the iron mask. Of course Miss Bramble thinks it is a marvellous idea. The girls’ punishment is a hockey match where they all take turns in fouling and brutalising Judy.

But just as this punishment ends, a helicopter arrives. The carrier pigeon did get through and the helicopter has brought in a school inspector, Miss Craig. Miss Craig indeed suspects something is wrong with the school after witnessing the inhumane hockey match and sees Miss Bramble for explanations. Miss Bramble says Jenkins must have goaded them but they will all be punished, while Judy tells Miss Craig that Miss Bramble put them up to it and it’s all part of how she runs the school through terror. Miss Bramble tries to cover up with smooth talk in how her school prides in discipline that turns unruly girls around. Nonetheless, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that in view of the note she has received about brutal treatment at the school, she will make a thorough inspection of the school.

The four friends realise Miss Bramble will try to pull the wool over Miss Craig’s eyes – and eventually it looks like she could succeed. They are desperate to find a way to find a way to make her see the truth. They get their chance when Miss Bramble gives the school a film show of documentaries to impress Miss Craig. Judy plants a Charlie Chaplin film (gee, how did that get to Spartan School in the first place?). She shows Miss Craig how the girls are reacting to the film: not laughing or smiling at all. She tells Miss Craig the girls are too cowed and scared to laugh because that’s what Spartan School does to its girls. Miss Craig understands what Judy is driving at, and when Miss Bramble lashes out at Judy in anger, Miss Craig wises up to her at last. She tells Miss Bramble her school will be closed down by tomorrow and gets ready to take Judy away from it immediately.

Miss Bramble is not having that and orders Siddons to get the cine-camera. She then threatens to beat Judy, and Siddons films Miss Craig holding the cane after she snatches it from Miss Bramble to make it look like it was Miss Craig beating Judy. They use it to blackmail Miss Craig into dropping her threat to close down the school. Appalled at how this frame-up could destroy her career. Miss Craig leaves without a murmur. While she leaves, Miss Bramble says to her, “These girls need the treatment I give them. It’s the only thing they understand.”

Afterwards, Miss Bramble gives the four friends an ultimatum: sign a document promising they will never defy her again or face terrible punishment the following day. Naturally, Liz, Judy and Sarah refuse to sign. Unfortunately Amanda’s weak nerves have reached breaking point and she feels she doesn’t have the strength of the others in continuing to defy Miss Bramble. Next day she signs the document while the others get a hosing for refusing. Amanda regrets signing, but has been brought up to keep her word and refuses to go back on it, even if it was forced. Later, the girls notice how Amanda is becoming more and more like the browbeaten, terrified girls.

That night, Amanda runs away. She is in serious danger because a blizzard is looming, but hard-hearted Miss Bramble refuses to organise a search for her. She locks up the three girls in a shed for the night when they try to force her to do so. Later, Miss Bramble grows worried that the girls might report her for refusing to search for Amanda, and Siddons hatches a plan to deal with this.

Next morning, Siddons offers to help the girls escape, claiming that she has seen how wrong Miss Bramble is and sends them off down the mountain in the cable car. When the cable car is half way down the mountain, Siddons cuts through the cable to kill the girls. Miraculously, they survive, and soon discover what Siddons did with the cable.

They make their way to the police station to tell their story and get help for Amanda. But they soon discover that Miss Bramble and Siddons have arranged another nasty surprise for them: they told the police a concocted story about the girls having run away after stealing money, and Siddons had planted the money on them before they left. The police escort the girls to the cells, but Liz helps Sarah and Judy escape by distracting the police with a ‘fainting fit’. Sarah and Judy make a fast getaway on a sleigh and head across the country to shake off the police.

They check out a hotel in the hope the guests found Amanda on the slope. Instead, they find Amanda herself! She says she found a calf on the slopes and they helped keep each other warm in the shelter of some rocks. After the blizzard eased, a farmer found Amanda when he came looking for his calf. He brought Amanda to the hotel, where she has made a good recovery. She phoned her father about Spartan School, who in turn contacted Judy and Sarah’s parents, and Mr Rogers is on his way to collect Amanda.

Just then, the police catch up to the girls, and they have brought Liz as well. But before the police can do anything, there is a sudden alert that an avalanche is imminent and will sweep Spartan School away. They cannot warn the school because the school phone has been cut off. What’s more, another blizzard has started. The girls decide to head back to Spartan School to warn them, making their way through the blizzard.

They make it back to the school. Knowing Miss Bramble is unlikely to listen to them, they decide to sound the old fire bell instead. But Siddons has seen them return and alerts Miss Bramble. They lock the girls in the bell tower. Miss Bramble does not listen to the girls’ warnings about the avalanche. Fortunately, Siddons does.

The girls manage to break down the door by using the bell as a battering ram. The noise the bell makes while they do so rouses the school, which enables Siddons to warn them about the avalanche. The school evacuates, and on the way down the slope, they bump into the rescue party consisting of the police, Judy’s father – and Miss Craig, who found the courage to report Miss Bramble to the authorities. The schoolgirls say they don’t know where the four friends are.

Meanwhile, the four friends have found Miss Bramble knocked out and unconscious on the bell tower steps. They pull her away with a sledge and eventually meet up with the search party. While they do so, the avalanche gets underway and destroys Spartan School.

Miss Bramble regains consciousness and cannot understand how these “wicked girls” were capable of saving her life. The police tell Miss Bramble how Miss Craig has told them about her “strange ideas of discipline”. When Miss Bramble says she was certain discipline would be good for the girls, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that discipline is good, but her “harsh tyranny” is not. However, seeing as Spartan School is no more, Miss Craig has little doubt the authorities will take no further action in the matter (whaatt?!?). Nonetheless, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that her teaching days are over – “over for ever!” Meanwhile, Siddons slinks away and is not seen again.

The four friends return to England and stay together at a much better and happier school.

Thoughts

This was the first story Terence Magee wrote for girls’ comics. It was also the first to pair up Terence’s writing with the artwork of the unknown artist who is nicknamed “Merry”. This pairing would occur again and again, most prominently in Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”. Other occasions included the extremely popular Sandie story, “Slave of the Trapeze”.

Girls’ comics often made comment on progressivism vs. authoritarianism in education, particularly on how evil authoritarianism could be if it was taken too far. In so doing, it was linked with the bully teacher/principal theme, which was frequently used to illustrate what not to do in the classroom (or for the creators to purge their own memories of bully teachers?). The theme of tyrannical headmistresses going to extremes with discipline and reacting against modern teaching methods was in Tammy from the first issue with “The Girls of Liberty Lodge”. Here Miss Steele runs her school with such bizarre and harsh discipline that she stages show trials for girls in the school hall in front of the whole school. However, Miss Steele’s nemesis is not a pupil but a teacher, Miss Valentine. When Miss Steele reprimands Miss Valentine for showing a pupil kindness (so kindness is not allowed at this school either) Miss Valentine responds by quitting and establishing a progressive school, Liberty Lodge, in reaction against Miss Steele. From then on, Miss Steele pulls every trick in the book to destroy Liberty Lodge.

Jinty also used the theme on occasion. In one of her holiday specials she ran “The Spoof of St. Elma’s”, where the “cold and unfeeling” Miss Reed takes great pride in making St Elma’s “the harshest and strictest school in the country” (grim teachers and appointing the hardest girls as prefects are among her methods) and has no tolerance whatsoever for modern progressive teaching methods. She vows not to retire until she can find someone who can run the same way, and eventually tries it with a computer named Miss Steele. But it all blows up in her face when the computer malfunctions. As a result, her harsh, unfeeling legacy is completely swept away and progressive, caring teaching comes in with the new headmistress.

A variant Jinty had on the theme was “Children of Edenford”. Headmistress Miss Purity Goodfellow uses drugs to turn her pupils into brainwashed paragons of virtue in the name of perfection – with the full blessing of the girls’ parents.

Jinty’s most striking, and best thought-out example of the theme was “Dracula’s Daughter”, where authoritarian Mr Graves is determined to turn free-and-easy Castlegate into an old-fashioned grammar school. He rams it down everyone’s throats, even the teachers’, saying that he’s the headmaster so everything he says goes, and the teachers are to shape up to it or ship out. Mr Graves also believes fun and play belong in the home and not the classroom, and imposes this on the school too. However, unlike Miss Bramble or Miss Reed, Mr Graves is not a cruel, unfeeling sadist who subjects pupils to mock trials or ladles over-the-top torture with a shovel in the name of discipline. He is a bigot, not sadistic or insane like the headmistresses mentioned here. Ironically, he does have a heart and he shows he can be human when he believes it is appropriate for him to do so. Moreover, Mr Graves ends up becoming less rigid in his beliefs about education and learns to respect progressive education more. Still, everyone at Castlegate is relieved when Mr Graves leaves and goes back to his old grammar after discovering its discipline has slipped to the point of the boys becoming delinquent.

Spartan School is no doubt the most intense and excessive example of progressivism vs. authoritarianism in girls’ comics. Nothing is beyond Miss Bramble in her crusade to turn ‘unruly’ girls into her models of obedient and disciplined girls. However, we suspect discipline is just her excuse and the real motive behind her methods is that she’s a sadist who likes to torture girls emotionally, physically and psychologically. We suspect this even more when Miss Bramble says she has to stop the girls reporting her to the authorities because they would not understand her methods.

The text boxes say that Miss Bramble runs the school as if it were Victorian, but surely not even Victorian schools went as far as Miss Bramble. The girls either emerge as emotionally and psychologically traumatised zombies or like Siddons – unfeeling, bullying monsters with no trace of kindness or humanity to be seen. It is not just unruliness that is beaten out of girls but all trace of kindness, humanity and friendship as well. This is clearly because Miss Bramble does not tolerate tender emotions as she does not have any, and she does not allow friendships because they are building blocks to conspiracy against her discipline. She wants all her girls to be turned into models that are based on her personality. It could well be that Siddons came to Spartan School as an ‘undisciplined’ girl herself, and Miss Bramble’s ideas of discipline turned her into the stone-hearted monster and flunky that she is. As a result, Siddons is capable of anything, even murder. Or maybe she was a genuine badass kid in serious need of straightening out, but just got a whole lot worse at Spartan School. In any case, the four friends are the only oasis of kindness and courage we see in the entire school. Nowhere else is it to be seen.

Miss Bramble seems to ride on the shoulders of neglectful / useless parents who don’t seem to pick up on what’s going on at Spartan School or what their girls have become after they return from the school. Some may even approve of it. Rumours about the school’s cruelty circulate, Amanda herself has seen a damaged girl returning from Spartan School, and girls go home from Spartan School looking broken and frightened, yet nobody seems to step up and look into things. Parents still send their girls to it, believing it will do their girls a world of good. It’s not until Amanda manages to bring an inspector in that the cruelty of the school finally begins to get out. At least the four friends’ parents redeem themselves somewhat when they come in person to form part of the rescue party.

It is a bit annoying that Miss Bramble seems to get off a bit too lightly at the end of the story. Miss Craig takes the view that the authorities will not do much because Spartan School has been destroyed. Oh, come on, this is a woman who’s not only committed physical and psychological abuse against girls but is guilty of attempted murder as well! Shouldn’t there be at least a full public inquiry before deciding what should be done with Miss Bramble? Don’t the parents and pupils get a say in the matter? A lot of readers must have wished Miss Bramble had died in the avalanche or broken her neck on the staircase after reading Miss Craig’s view on what will happen to her. As for Siddons not being seen again after she disappears…well, it does suggest she might have come to a sticky end off-panel. Readers must have hoped for that anyway.

When Judy arrives at Spartan School, it’s where Miss Bramble finally meets her match, much in the way that Misery House does with Merry Summers. Like Merry, Judy refuses to be broken by the cruelties of the institution, finds strength in the only friends she has, and uses her quick wits to get out of the scrapes and dirty tricks that Miss Bramble and Siddons pull on her. As with Merry, Judy’s defiance takes the form of something that flies in the face of Spartan School and defies all attempts to break it. In the case of Merry, it is keeping on smiling and joking, no matter what. In the case of Judy, it is maintaining the four-friend friendship against all of Miss Bramble’s attempts to destroy it. And like Merry, Judy is determined to get word out about the cruelties of Spartan School and get it shut down. Unlike Merry, Judy succeeds on her very first try, although it takes time for help to arrive because of the blackmail Miss Bramble pulls on Miss Craig.

On this blog, Spartan School has been regarded as a forerunner of “Merry at Misery House”. For one thing, it is the same creative team. Parallels between the two stories have been noted above. The cruel institutions are physically destroyed (fire in Misery House, avalanche in Spartan School) as well as being shut down by authorities that have been finally been alerted by unsettling reports. Misery House also resorts to beatings, pillories, unhealthy isolation cells, poor food and other cruelties (but no iron mask, thank goodness) in order to break the protagonist. As with Judy, they also pull blackmail and other dirty tricks in order to isolate the protagonist from her friends and turn them against her. Character-wise, Judy could well be a predecessor of Merry; she likes to play jokes to liven things up a bit, but unwisely does them during class time. Liz is a bit like Merry too; our first impressions of her are that she is a chirpy girl, just like Merry.

In some ways, Spartan School does Judy a lot of good, albeit in spite of itself. Her energies, which went into practical jokes at her previous schools, are rechanneled into bringing down Spartan School and foiling all the tricks that are pulled to destroy the friendship. At the beginning we see a stubborn streak in Judy; once she puts her mind to something, she does it. This would have helped Judy immensely once she became determined not to let anything at Spartan School crush her. We get the impression that Judy emerged as a more toned-down and mature girl. No doubt she emerged as a much stronger and courageous one.

 

Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel [1978-79]

Sample Images

Hush Hush Sweet Rachel 1Hush Hush Sweet Rachel 1aHush Hush Sweet Rachel 1bHush Hush Sweet Rachel 1d

Published: Misty 18 November 1978 – 3 February 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Pat Mills

Reprints: Best of Misty Monthly 3

Plot

Lisa Harvey is a popular girl at school, and Jackie and Janis are her best friends. Life is not perfect for Lisa, though. At home, Lisa’s mother is not devoting the attention to Lisa that she ought because she’s too wrapped up with her career in beauty consultation. At school, Lisa has an enemy in Rosie Belcher, “The Incredible Bulk”. Rosie is jealous that Lisa is popular while she is not. Rosie never thinks that she never does anything to make herself popular. She is a bully and is not kind or polite to anyone. Worse, she has very disgusting eating habits and manners that she likes to nauseate the girls with. We learn later the whole Belcher household is this way; Rosie’s brother Mervyn is apparently even worse than she is, and his nickname is “Gobber”. Rosie blames everyone but herself for being so unpopular: “It’s victimisation. They always pick on me.” Rosie does not appreciate that Lisa is kinder to her than the other girls: “Rosie lives next door and I feel a bit sorry for her.” They tell Lisa she is too nice for her own good and she would be wiser to avoid Rosie.

But Lisa’s problems really start when a strange woman starts following her around. Eventually Lisa decides enough is enough and confronts the woman, who says she will be in touch with her soon. In the wake of the woman’s appearance, Lisa starts experiencing strange bouts where she acts like a four-year-old girl, and then returns to normal.

Lisa also starts having nightmares in which she sees such a little girl in her dreams. She screams “Mummy-mummy-mummy! Let me out!”. The first time this happens she tries to get out of her bedroom window, which puts her in danger of falling. Her parents stop her in the nick of time. Out in the street, the woman is watching and seems to know what is going on. She thinks “Hush, hush, sweet Rachel, don’t you cry. We’ll soon be together – you and I. All your sorrows are nearly over.”

At school, Lisa’s odd bouts of acting like a four-year-old are worsening. Rosie intends to take advantage of it to get her revenge on Lisa. And as Rosie lives next door to Lisa and Lisa foolishly lets her get closer to her than the others do, this will make whatever Rosie plans easier to carry out.

The woman still follows Lisa around. Lisa snaps and tells her to clear off or she’ll call the police. The woman says she is “sure now” and has Lisa tell her parents she will call tomorrow evening. Scared, Lisa turns to Janis and Jackie for support as her mother won’t listen.

At the fun fair, Lisa raises Rosie’s temper, so she runs into the crazy house to get away from her. In the crazy house, Lisa is chased by a terrifying man who threatens to punish her for not taking her medicine. When the man corners Rosie, she reverts to her strange childish behaviour and screams, “Mummy-mummy-mummy, let me out!” When she comes out of the crazy house, there is no sign of the horrible man. The strange woman takes the shaken Lisa off for a soothing cuppa. The woman introduces herself as Mrs Prendergast, and she once had a beautiful daughter named Rachel. Rachel had a teddy bear just like the one Lisa has just won at the fair, which we suspect helped to trigger Lisa’s fit. She shows Lisa a photo of Rachel, which shows she is the girl from Lisa’s nightmare, but reveals little else.

Mrs Harvey doesn’t take what Lisa says about Mrs Prendergast seriously and thinks Mrs Prendergast is interested in her beauty products. But the Harvey parents get a shock when Mrs Prendergast tells her story. She lost her beloved Rachel at the age of four. Mrs Prendergast could still feel Rachel’s presence for some reason, and at her doctor’s advice went abroad, but she has never really come to terms with her grief. Mrs Prendergast stumbled across reincarnation, and in particular how a child who dies in tragic circumstances, before their time, can remember their previous incarnation if they come back too soon. When she returned to Britain, Mrs Prendergast saw a ghost of Rachel, which disappeared inside Lisa’s body. Realising how much Lisa reminds her of Rachel, Mrs Prendergast did some investigating and discovered Lisa was born at the same time Rachel died, and in the same hospital. So Mrs Prendergast believes Lisa is the reincarnation of Rachel, and for this reason she wants to visit Lisa regularly.

The Harvey family are naturally shocked and angry and tell Mrs Prendergast to go away. Lisa also notices a curious omission in Mrs Prendergast’s story – she did not explain how Rachel died. The parents want to forget the whole thing, and don’t take Lisa’s claims of strange nightmares seriously, but Jackie and Janis listen to Lisa more.

Lisa’s odd behaviour of reverting to four-year-old behaviour gets worse at school. Realising that this behaviour is triggered when Lisa is called “Rachel” (but Lisa returns to normal if she is called “Lisa”), Rosie begins to take advantage to ‘befriend’ Lisa when she is in Rachel mode and get her into trouble. She starts by having ‘Rachel’ scrawl pictures all over the classroom walls, and is very annoyed when the teacher decides leniency is the best approach. Suspicious, Jackie and Janis check Rosie’s desk and find the markers Rosie helped ‘Rachel’ with. They warn Lisa that she must well and truly watch out for Rosie now.

Lisa finds Mrs Prendergast is still hanging around. She follows Mrs Prendergast to Rachel’s grave. When Lisa finds she was indeed born on the same day Rachel died, she accepts what Mrs Prendergast says as true and begs Rachel to set her free. Mrs Prendergast overhears, and evades the question of how Rachel died when Lisa asks her directly. Instead, Mrs Prendergast repeats her desire to get close to Lisa, and even tries to bribe her into it. Lisa tells her to go away and runs off. Meanwhile, Jackie and Janis try to tell Mrs Harvey about Lisa’s strange behaviour at school, but she just dismisses it.

Rosie visits Lisa’s house and makes her act like Rachel, which enables her to steal money that Lisa was saving for a new skirt for the disco. After Rosie leaves, Jackie and Janis find Lisa still in Rachel mode, and are shocked when Lisa’s reflection changes to Rachel in a mirror. They plead with Rachel to leave Lisa alone. Rachel replies she is lost and does not know where to go. They tell her to go home, at which Rachel shows them an image of her house. This is followed by images of Rachel crying in her bedroom, and then banging on her bedroom window while screaming “Mummy-mummy-mummy-let-me-out!” Then the mirror explodes. Jackie and Janis decide to track down the house.

Meanwhile, Lisa enrages Rosie further by getting the money she pinched back off her and buys the skirt. While Lisa enjoys herself at the disco, Jackie and Janis head off to check the house. But while they do so, Rosie bullies her way in (by stealing another girl’s ticket) and gets Lisa to act like Rachel so she can use it to humiliate her in public. Rosie gets ‘Rachel’ to put on makeup in a manner that will make her look like a clown. Rosie thinks that the girls will get such a laugh out of the joke that she will become popular at last.

While they are all out, Mrs Prendergast phones Mrs Harvey to say Lisa is in danger because Rachel was reincarnated too soon, which means an early death. Mrs Harvey won’t listen because she is afraid of losing Lisa, which is the reason she’s been burying her head in the sand about the whole matter. She feels she has to carry on as if everything is normal, so she returns to her lingerie party, and hope the trouble will all go away.

Jackie and Janis find Rachel’s house burned out and abandoned, which is the first clue as to how she died. They also encounter a nasty man trimming the hedge, who calls them ghouls who wallow in other people’s misery and tells them to go away. Following this, they decide to investigate the house after dark.

Then Janis’s Uncle Bill comes along, and he is able to tell them what happened. Rachel’s father had a terrible temper and always made her suffer for it. One day he locked Rachel in her room, at the top of the house, as a punishment. But a fire broke out, the cause of which was never determined. Rachel was unable to escape because the door was locked and the window had been made childproof. This was how Rachel came to be banging on the window and screaming as she did. Mr Prendergast was too far away trimming the hedge to hear Rachel’s cries for help. By the time he did, it was too late. The fire claimed him as well when he tried to rescue Rachel, possibly because he felt too guilty to try to escape. When the girls ask for a description of Mr Prendergast, they find it matches the description of the man they saw – so his ghost has come back as well? After this, Janis and Jackie are too scared to enter the house after dark and head back to the disco.

They arrive back at the disco just in time to see how Rosie is humiliating ‘Rachel’, and get her back to normal mode. Rosie is banned from the hall for this and for her bullying of the other girl. Lisa heads for home, but Rachel’s power draws her to the Prendergast house, where Mrs Prendergast says it is time for them to be together.

Mr Prendergast’s ghost tries to warn Lisa off, but she recognises him as the horrible man who chased her in the crazy house and does not listen. She heads for Rachel’s bedroom, where Mrs Prendergast is waiting. Lisa starts the banging behaviour on the window and screaming for Mummy to let her out. Mummy now does so by opening the window. She then directs Lisa out the window, where they will both be free and the mistake of Rachel coming back too soon will finally be rectified.

Meanwhile, Jackie and Janis have called at Lisa’s house to check on her, and found her not there. Mrs Harvey tells them what Mrs Prendergast said and now regrets not having the situation seriously instead of trying to deny it. They head out to the Prendergast house, where they are horrified to see Mrs Prendergast and Lisa on the window ledge. When they call “No, Lisa! No!”, Lisa snaps out of Rachel mode. Once Lisa realises where she is, she tries to fight Mrs Prendergast. The struggle results in Mrs Prendergast falling to her death. Lisa realises the return of Mrs Prendergast was what stirred up the ghosts and memories of her Prendergast incarnation. So now that Mrs Prendergast is gone, they cease to plague Lisa.

Thoughts

Misty drew on much of the popular horror, fantasy and SF films and literature of her day. Hush, Hush Sweet Rachel is Misty’s version of Audrey Rose. Audrey Rose Hoover dies in a burning car while banging and screaming against the window. She is reincarnated as Ivy Templeton, but the reincarnation came too soon. This meant there was an insufficient in-between resolution period for Audrey Rose’s soul and its karma in the astral planes, and this is having adverse effects on the current incarnation.

Audrey Rose’s father Elliot starts interfering in the lives of Ivy’s family because he figured out the reincarnation and wants to get close to his daughter again through her reincarnation. This triggers nightmares in Ivy in which she keeps reliving the death throes of Audrey Rose screaming and banging against the car window while the fire rages. The only one who can handle Ivy’s fits is Elliot, but this eventually lands him in court on charges of kidnapping Ivy, with the existence of reincarnation on trial.

Unlike Audrey Rose, which is taken from the adults’ perspective rather than Ivy’s, Sweet Rachel is taken from the schoolgirl perspective of the protagonist and her two best friends. The parents are what they so often are in girls’ comics – completely useless because either they don’t listen or they don’t treat it with the seriousness it requires until near the end. Sometimes they don’t even wake up to it at all, as in Mandy’s Bad Luck Barbara. At least we get more insights into the psychology of it all than we usually do. At first Mrs Harvey comes across as a neglectful, thoughtless mother, but gradually we learn that she does genuinely love Lisa. Her cavalier attitude was motivated by fear and trying to evade the situation instead of facing it. Unfortunately, this led to her constantly failing Lisa until near the end. As for Mr Harvey, we hardly see anything of him except for the meeting with Mrs Prendergast, where he tells her to leave them alone.

Lisa’s nightmares of Rachel’s death throes parallel those that Ivy experiences. But, considering that visions and apparitions of Rachel do appear in the story, it’s hard to say whether Lisa’s odd behaviour stems from her just being a reincarnation of Rachel or if Rachel came back as a ghost and is possessing Lisa. When the ghost of Mr Prendergast is introduced, it becomes clear that the ghost theme is as strong as the reincarnation theme, and they overlap so much that it is hard to tell just what is going on with Lisa. Is it a disturbed reincarnation or a ghostly possession, or is it a blend of the two?

Also unlike Audrey Rose, Sweet Rachel goes along the path of a mystery story (which girl readers just loved) that needs to be unravelled. This stems from Mrs Prendergast not telling the whole story. For some reason she won’t say how Rachel died, and this is clearly linked with the strange nightmares Lisa is having. Mrs Prendergast has seen for them for herself, but unlike Elliot Hoover she does not explain what the nightmares are about or help to stop the nightmares when they occur.

As the story is told from the girls’ perspective, the school environment, school bullying and the teen scene take the stage rather than the theology of reincarnation, which gets so heavy in Audrey Rose. Rosie Belcher comes from a long line of jealous, unpopular girls who want to bring down the protagonist because she’s so popular, and set out to do it by playing upon the problem the protagonist develops in the story. In this case, Rosie is taking advantage of Lisa’s ‘Rachel’ behaviour to humiliate her, get her into trouble, and destroy everything she hates in Lisa. But every step of the way she fails, and her nasty tricks only serve to make her even more unpopular. Not that she sees it that way. Rosie just cannot understand that it is her own conduct that makes her so unpopular.

Just what the inspiration was for Rosie’s repulsive eating habits is harder to understand though. Perhaps it was based on a real person Pat Mills knew at school or real-life neighbours who were just like the Belcher family. Or, as this is Misty, did the Misty team decide to go for the gross-out with Rosie to make her a more interesting character? Or are the Belchers reincarnated pigs or something?

Rosie brings something to the story that Audrey Rose did not have – a villain. There are no villains in Audrey Rose, so Sweet Rachel definitely has more edge and menace there. Unlike Elliot Hoover, Mrs Prendergast can also be regarded as a villain. For one thing, she is clearly not giving the whole story. Hoover was upfront on how Audrey Rose died straight from the start, but Mrs Prendergast is evasive on how Rachel died, which makes her a more suspicious and ominous character. Moreover, while Hoover genuinely wants to help Ivy/Audrey work through an unsettled reincarnation, Mrs Prendergast is clearly trying to get Lisa/Rachel out of possessiveness, even if it means killing them both on the window ledge. For these reasons, Mrs Prendergast does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character, although her tragic story does make us feel sorry for her in many ways. She is a character who gives both Lisa and us the creeps, especially when we read her remarks that she and Rachel are soon going to be together. We don’t trust her at all. And it is very odd for Mrs Prendergast to warn Mrs Harvey that the hasty reincarnation could mean an early death for Lisa (now why would that be so?) and she could be in danger when it turns out Mrs Prendergast herself is the danger to Lisa/Rachel.

When we learn more about Rachel’s home life, we have to decide which Prendergast parent is more deserving of our sympathy. The dangers Mrs Prendergast posed to Lisa/Rachel have already been described. On the other hand, Mrs Prendergast was clearly the kind, caring parent who gave Rachel the love that she needed against a father who was borderline abusive. In fact, Mr Prendergast even looks like an ogre with a tall, burly build, a squint, and even red eyes! We have to wonder why Mrs Prendergast married him in the first place. Yet Mr Prendergast has more redeeming qualities than his wife. Although he is set up as a villain with his appearance and terrifying, aggressive conduct, it turns out he is not the true villain after all. Moreover, guilt over the tragedy redeemed him and his harsh parenting, and he tried to save Rachel twice. On the second round he is more successful, even if it is just because Lisa’s mother and friends arrived in the nick of time.

Eduardo Feito’s artwork really adds to the creepy atmosphere of the story, particularly in its use of tippling, etching, light brushwork, and shadowing, and even adding a dash of feral to it. The innocence in the expressions on Lisa’s face has a soft childlike quality, which blends in with the concept of possession by a four-year-old.