Tag Archives: alternate reality

The Clock and Cluny Jones (1973)

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Published: Tammy 27 January 1973 to 14 April 1973

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Bill Harrington

Translations/reprints: Misty annual 1985 as “Grandfather’s Clock”

Plot

Cluny Jones is a bully. She is the terror of the school where she does not pull her weight and cheats and cribs at classwork and games. Her justification for her conduct is that life is tough and you have to be tough to get what you want, something her orphaning has made her believe in. Also part of the problem is that she is indulged too much by her kind Aunt Mabel, whom she takes advantage of.

An inheritance comes for Cluny from her late grandfather in Scotland. Cluny is chagrined to see it is not money but a grandfather clock he made himself, and she has a good mind to sell it. However, when Cluny opens the clock in search of any hidden money, she soon finds out it is no ordinary grandfather clock. When it strikes thirteen, she suddenly feels as if she’s falling into a void inside the clock. Then she finds everything is different somehow and everyone she knows behaves the opposite of how they were before – including herself. Aunt Mabel is now an abusive tyrant and more rough in appearance. Cluny is forced to go to school in tatty uniform, and her toughness is gone; instead, she is timid. She is also brilliant, the “swot” of the school. The pupils, whom she bullied before, get so jealous at her winning the Craigavon scholarship they start beating her up. Cluny finds herself terrified of this instead of duffing them up as she would back home, and she wonders why the heck she can’t stand up to them.

Thirteen strikes again, Cluny falls back into the void, and then finds everything has gone back to normal. But she’s at school, not in front of her grandfather’s clock where it all started, and realises something is weird about that clock. Cluny checks inside it and finds a message. It reads: “If money you require, step into the mire, if real riches you esteem, slip into my timely stream. The bridge of time is my thirteenth chime.” Cluny can’t figure it out.

After this bizarre experience, you would expect Cluny to steer well clear of that clock and try to get rid of it fast. But greed has taken over and is drawing Cluny back to the clock and the mystery about it. She still hopes there is a fortune inside the clock and thinks the note is promising it. She wonders if there is a connection with that other existence. Fuelled by greed, Cluny forces the clock to strike thirteen. She is back in the other reality, this time with everything flashing past at lightning speed. And the abuse is even worse: Aunt Mabel throws crockery at her and then says she’ll pay for those broken dishes, and at school the bullies attack her with such force they nearly drown her, but the thirteenth chime saves her in time. Inside the clock she finds another rhyming message, and this time she understands it: she rushed time by forcing the clock to strike thirteen and in future please wait for thirteen to strike. 

Greed over what “real riches” seems to promise draws Cluny back to the clock. She wants to figure out “timely stream” and decides to seek the “genius” she is in the other universe so she can figure it out at school. But the thirteenth chime has stopped. Cluny soon finds out why: Aunt Mabel sent it for an overhaul, thinking the thirteenth chime must mean it is time to get the clock fixed. Worse, she has sent it to a crooked firm, Manson’s, who swindle Cluny with another clock when she tries to get the clock back. She has to do a bit of breaking and entering to do it. She finds the clock just as it strikes thirteen, and she’s off again. In the other reality she finds Manson’s even worse: it’s a clock factory, and Mr Manson is even more cruel and coarse-looking. Cluny soon finds the abusive Aunt Mabel yanked her out of school to slave in the factory. She is sacked for cutting her finger and bleeding all over the goods. Aunt Mabel kicks her out to find another job, and she’s not to come back until she’s got one. 

Instead, Cluny heads to school in search of the science teacher, Miss Jarvis, to help her figure things out. With Miss Jarvis’ help, Cluny soon realises she is stepping in and out of a parallel timestream, one of many that run concurrent with her own. 

Cluny’s search for a job is fruitless, leaving her stuck on the streets because Aunt Mabel said not to come back until she had a job. Then, when Aunt Mabel catches up she’s all sweetness and light – and neat as a pin. Cluny soon finds out why: in this timestream grandfather is still alive and he’s paying a visit. Aunt is sucking up to him in the hopes of money from his will, as he’s filthy rich. It’s the cruel Aunt Mabel’s turn to be put out when grandfather’s present for Cluny is…the grandfather clock. 

Cluny now realises the notes she got in the grandfather clock were in grandfather’s writing, but Aunt Mabel takes them from her before she can figure them out further. Grandfather is very kind and takes Cluny out on treats, but he makes it clear he knows what she’s like in her own timestream, and if she’s ever like that again – remember him. Before he leaves, he tells Cluny that if things are getting too much she has no need to wait for the thirteenth chime – just touch the pendulum lightly and wish to go the time and place she wants. Cluny can now come and go as she pleases with the two timestreams. 

But the nasty Aunt Mabel sells the clock, leaving Cluny stranded in the harsh timestream. She fits Cluny up with a job at the Saracen Hotel, which means more drudgery with another cruel employer, Mr Frinton. On the plus side, it turns out to be where Aunt Mabel sold the clock. Unfortunately Cluny does not use the pendulum correctly and finds herself still stuck in the harsh timestream. 

Worse, she is arrested for attempted theft of the clock and assault on Mr Frinton. She soon finds that in this timestream there is no separate legal system for minors – “thank goodness” says the judge. Cluny is tried in an adult court and sentenced to an adult prison for eighteen months. The prison is as harsh as everything else in this world, where the guards and inmates alike bully Cluny. Now Cluny is doubly trapped by the timestream, with no hope of return unless she can escape from the prison and back to the clock, which looks hopeless. 

Then escape comes unexpectedly. Cluny’s two bully cellmates break out, and when Cluny discovers this, they drag her along at knifepoint, intending to kill her when they get the chance. But things go wrong with the getaway. When the police give chase, their getaway van goes over a cliff. It looks like the two convict women came a cropper below. Cluny is thrown clear, and it is not long before she realises the police are hunting for her. 

Fortunately Cluny ended up where grandfather lives and he helps her. He indeed knows what she is like in the other universe; this was all to teach her a lesson, and show her how horrible things can be if everyone was like her instead of being kinder to one another. Cluny promises to be different if she can return to her own timestream. 

Grandfather starts to build a second timestream clock to return Cluny to her timestream, but just as he finishes it, a policeman arrives in search of Cluny. Grandfather hypnotises the policeman into sleep, but the interruption he caused sends them off course, causing them to fail to change timestreams. Fortunately the clock sent them to Saracen Hotel, where the first timestream clock is. They are also facing down a very angry Mr Frinton. Grandfather keeps Mr Frinton hypnotised while Cluny uses the clock to return to her timestream. Grandfather stays behind, unable to go with Cluny, his fate uncertain, saying he can always make another clock. 

Back home, Cluny now realises the “riches” the note was on about meant the riches that come from being kind, and that is the course she will pursue from now on. The clock is back as well, and now Cluny wants to keep it. There is some hint from the clock suggesting that grandfather is all right in the other timestream.

Thoughts

“The Clock and Cluny Jones” holds the distinction of being Tammy’s first science fiction story, a genre she used less often than Jinty in her serials, but it became more frequent after Misty and Jinty merged with her. The science fiction elements have been very deftly combined with something the early Tammy was very well known for: dark stories laden with cruelty that is increasingly piled up against ill-used heroines, especially orphans, who remain unbroken by it all but are desperate to find some way to escape their abusive existence and find happiness. 

Tammy turns one of her own favourite premises right on its head by starting off this orphan as the opposite of how she is usually set up in the Tammy universe. Instead of being a cruelly abused orphan suffering at the hands of abusive guardians (as Bella Barlow was) and others at school and work, she is a tough, bullying orphan with a kind guardian, and she is the one who makes everyone else’s lives a misery. The irony is, when Cluny is flung into the other timestream, it is the other timestream that is more like the setup that Tammy used for her ill-used orphans: cruel guardians, school bullies, slave-driving employers, everything against the heroine, and any scrap of kindness they find (such as grandfather) is an oasis for them instead of taking it for granted (such as the kind Aunt Mabel) in Cluny’s own timestream. In the harsh timestream, Cluny herself is more like the ill-used victim heroine frequently seen in the early Tammy. This is not only in what she endures but also because her personality, rendered the opposite of what it was before, makes her unable to fight back as she would in her own timestream. 

Parallel worlds are commonly used in girls’ serials for “what if?” (The Sentinels from Misty) or dystopias based on out-of-hand extremes (Worlds Apart from Jinty). In this case we have a parallel world ruled by an extreme – extreme bullying. It is so extreme that it often turns ugly, coming close to murder more than once for Cluny in the story. It is a stroke of genius to use a parallel reality where virtually everyone is a bully, with rare exceptions such as grandfather and Miss Jarvis, to show Cluny the bully how terrible the consequences of bullying can be if everyone followed her philosophy and behaved tough to get what they want. The result is harsh, brutal, bullying people who shape a world that follows a very dark path. Nowhere is it more frightening than when Cluny falls foul of its legal system. Kids are treated the same as adults, no separate facilities for them, and everything, from the police to the prison, is brutal, bullying and violent. There are even “nasty penalties” for witchcraft, suggesting the brutality of this reality has made it backward in many ways. Grandfather is threatened with these penalties when a policeman sees the clock paraphernalia and stacks of books in his house, making us hope all the more he managed to get away. Perhaps he used another clock to jump into yet another timestream.

It is most unusual for a bully to be used for a redemption serial. More often girls’ comics went for spoiled brats, snobs, selfish girls and bigheads to put through the mill to transform them into better people, not protagonists who are downright nasty. But using a bully for a redemption story is the case here, which makes a very nice change. Cluny isn’t quite as evil as some bullies we’ve seen in girls’ comics (The Honourable S.J. and Nancy Norden from “Be Nice to Nancy!” from Judy for example), and much of her bullying stems from the wrong attitude, which she needs to learn is wrong. But her bullying needs to be sorted out and straight away we want her to get her comeuppance. It takes a while and a full stranding in the bully timestream for the message to sink in, though. Her initial trips to the timestream do not make her stop to think about her own bullying and she is still doing it at school.

Bullies were used more as antagonists to make life hell for the protagonist until their expected comeuppance at the very end. It’s good to see a bully get her comeuppance through a redemption story for once, and it’s a real twist to do so by turning her into the bully victim. And it begins with stripping Cluny of everything that made her a bully and taking everything for granted to make her appreciate you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – by giving her the total opposite in another reality. 

The pace of the story is really cracking and hard-hitting. For example, Cluny’s time in the prison does not last any more than it needs to. In just one episode Cluny is sent there and left shivering with cold because her cellmates have stolen her blankets; in the very next episode she escapes with those same cellmates. It’s also very frightening and eerie, and it’s disturbing to see Cluny drawn to the harsh timestream as much as she is scared of it because of her greed and mistaken belief that riches await her somewhere if she pursues that timestream. But we can tell straight away what that note about “real riches” means and Cluny’s letting herself in for big trouble by pursuing it instead of keeping away from that clock and its thirteenth chime. Once she learns her lesson we will not be at all surprised if the clock no longer strikes thirteen.

Tammy’s first science fiction story is definitely one of her very best serials, and it’s beautifully rendered by the ever-popular John Armstrong artwork. There is so much in it to make it a firm favourite with readers. It is not only fast-paced, exciting, intriguing and frightening; in many ways it is also atypical of girls’ serials, especially in having a bully being the one to go through the redemption process. 

Jassy’s Wand of Power (1976)

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Jassy 1

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Jassy 2

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Jassy 3

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Jassy 4

Publication: 2 October 1976 – 13 November 1976

Artist: Keith Robson

Writer: Unknown

Plot

In an future world (possibly alternate reality) of the 1980s, Britain has been in drought for seven years. It has now reached the point where people are desperate, starving and psychologically reverting to more savage levels. Refugees flock to the cities in search of food; when such people arrive at Fountain-le-Green, they are beaten off by armed parish council men led by Mr Danby, who don’t want outsiders getting their food. Jassy Hurst is more kind and gives the starving people what food she can spare, but this does not make her popular with the hard townsfolk who say she is throwing away food on “trash”.

Then Jassy accidentally finds she has a gift for water dowsing, apparently inherited from her grandfather, and is soon finding her own water sources. But people get suspicious when they see how lush her garden is and Jassy tells Danby her secret. But this puts her in great danger because psychic people have been the targets of witch-hunting martial law state persecution ever since a man with second sight prophesied that there would be no rain for many years.

Danby and his council blackmail Jassy into finding water for them. Unknown to her, they are also extorting payments from people in exchange for her services and making a profit. When Jassy finds out, she runs off and finds a power plant run by Sir Harmer Jeffreys. Sir Harmer takes her prisoner. He has heard stories of what Danby has been up to with Jassy and soon realises who she is. He explains that the drought is crippling his power plant and wants Jassy to find water for him. He assures Jassy that he will share whatever water she finds with the villagers and not take it all for himself. But his word is doubtful as he looks a real villain.

Sure enough, Sir Harmer is soon exploiting Jassy’s water dowsing powers as much as Danby did. It takes the form of a false religion, with Jassy blackmailed into being set up as a water goddess who can work miracles. Worse, it practises human sacrifice, with a blind boy named Mark being used as the sacrifice.

Jassy does not realise the real reason for the sacrifice: Mark has his own psychic powers that threaten Sir Harmer. While bouncing a ball he sings:

“Bouncing high, bouncing low, I’m the only one to know. Never, never shall it rain while the power plant shall remain.”

Jassy beats Sir Harmer at his own game by feigning the divine will of the goddess that Mark become a servant to her priestess. Sir Harmer is forced to agree to having Mark at the posh apartments he has set up for Jassy. But he is worried as he would be in serious trouble if people catch on to what Mark was singing.

Mark’s ball has been confiscated and he can only sing his psychic songs when he has the ball. It is found and Mark sings his song again. Jassy realises what it means – the chemicals from the new process at Sir Harmer’s plant are causing the drought. They must escape and warn the government. They do so by distracting the guards with a fire and with the guidance of Mark’s powers.

They are taken in by a kindly couple, Mr and Mrs Blake who know all about how villainous Sir Harmer is. They say he is also one of the richest men in England who will be building more of his power stations across the world – which will mean a world-wide drought. Jassy  tells them that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought and what they are trying to do. Jassy also decides to track down other dowsers in hiding and rally them into a force for the government to take notice of, and this is soon getting results. But of course Sir Harmer is trying to hunt them down.

Soon the children experience another danger – a wandering lion. But it turns out the lion belongs to one Lord Merrow, who used to have a safari park before the drought. Lord Merrow takes them in. Upon hearing their story, he uses what petrol he has to get them on their way, and then faces up to Sir Harmer’s men who are in hot pursuit. They end up shooting Lord Merrow and his lion.

The children are captured by a bounty hunter who is after Sir Harmer’s reward. A policeman spots them and tries to stop what looks like an attempted kidnapping. But upon hearing the children have psychic powers, the policeman has the children brought to the Tower of London where other psychics are imprisoned. The bounty hunter informs Sir Harmer that the children have been taken care of.

Jassy continuously makes warnings that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought, and people begin to take notice. Sir Harmer hears of this and orders that the children be brought to him. But the rumours about Jassy and the plant have spread far enough for an angry mob to attack Downing Street, demanding water and that the Prime Minister release the children. The Prime Minister agrees to Jassy being brought to him.

In the Tower, Mark sings another song that hints that courage will win through. So when the guards come, Jassy insists that Mark come too. When they arrive, Sir Harmer tries to shoot Jassy while she tries to tell the mob outside the truth. Mark stops Sir Harmer and he is taken into custody. Jassy tells the crowd that she has found water dowsers all over the country who can help them find water, including the people imprisoned in the Tower. The Prime Minister has the psychics released from the Tower and shuts the plant down. The water dowsers help find water until rain finally falls, which it does three months after the closure of the plant. Jassy can now put away her wand of power.

Thoughts

In 1976 Jinty ran “Fran of the Floods“, a story on environmental extremes; in that case, extreme flooding. In this story, in the same year, the pendulum swings to the other extreme with drought. Is it coincidence or did Jinty really intend to explore two diametrically opposed forms of environmental extremes? At any rate, this story could be considered as anticipatory as “Fran of the Floods”, which anticipated global warming. In a world where droughts are an increasing problem because of climate change and water supplies are beginning to deplete, Jassy could be considered another Jinty story ahead of its time.

But while Fran of the Floods dealt with natural environmental disaster, this is a man-made one in the form of Sir Harmer’s power plant releasing chemicals that are causing drought. Echoes of the same theme can be seen in Jinty’s 1978 story “The Birds“, where chemicals released from a new plant cause birds to go crazy and attack people.

It is a bit confusing as to how or why Sir Harmer was causing the very same drought that was also crippling his power plant through lack of water. Did he not realise what his chemicals were doing, or did he ignore or disbelieve warnings as to what the chemicals would do?  Or did he know it all along and was just using it to jack up prices for his electricity and make even more money? Any of these are possible and would accommodate what would be a plot hole. What is less accommodating is why everyone was saying it was a “new” process that was causing the drought when the drought had been in effect for seven years – hardly a “new” thing. Did the plant perhaps exacerbate what was already an existing drought?

However it started, we can sure see the effects the drought is having on society. People are not only getting desperate, even savage in the face of food and water shortages, but those fascist-style uniforms the state police wear indicate that the drought has swung Britain in the direction of a totalitarian state. A state with hints of the old Nazi Germany, which is even more disturbing. Exactly how far it goes is not clear, but it is psychic people who are taking the brunt; a twist on the witch-hunting theme that appears in many serials such as “Mark of the Witch!” But instead of being persecuted by witch-hunting mobs and burned at the stake they are taken away Gestapo-style. And it’s all just because one psychic predicted the drought. A take on the old scapegoating trick? Or, if this is an alternate universe, is it an indication of superstitious attitudes that this society has? The false religion that Sir Harmer tries to set up with Jassy does point to this. People are so willing to fall for her being a miracle goddess. Has desperation driven people to extra gullibility and vulnerability, or is it also because they live in a more superstitious Britain than ours?

Keith Robson’s artwork does a brilliant job of bringing out the harshness, desperation and primal instincts that are coming out of people in the face of the droughts with the visceral quality to his heavy lines, inking and cross-hatching. His depiction of the hard, ruthless Danby men, for example gives them a near-grotesque appearance in their swarthy, thuggish looks. And Sir Harmer looks like he has fangs when he gets angry!

Jassy herself starts as an oasis of kindness (not unusual in girls’ strips) in a world where most people in her village are losing their humanity and despise her for giving food to refugees. And is that peace badge she wears on her right knee a coincidence or a symbol of how much she sets herself apart with her kindness? This alone has set her apart from her harsh society, but she becomes well and truly a victim when she discovers her special power. Worse, it makes her vulnerable not only to state oppression but to exploitation by money-grabbing men like Danby and Sir Harmer who see her power for what it is worth in this drought-stricken society.

It is no surprise that Jassy becomes a crusader and rebel out to change things in her oppressive society either. It takes the revelation of Mark, another psychic, that the plant is causing the drought, to turn her into one. But once it starts, she is quite revolutionary about it, in her campaign to rouse other psychics in hiding into rebellion. Perhaps this could have done with more development and treatment; it feels that the ending comes a bit too soon and was rushed. The psychic rebellion was an aspect that could easily have been developed more and taken an even bigger hand with the conclusion.

Although Jassy’s Wand of Power is not one of Jinty’s best-remembered stories, it is still an intriguing story that is filled with elements that would disturb readers more than usual. Armed thugs ready to drive off people who are desperate for food? A false religion that practises human sacrifice? Fascist-style state police in Britain rounding people up? A man shot in cold blood for trying to save the children? It would certainly give readers the shudders. Its strongest point of all is the environmental aspect and the damage mankind is doing to the Earth. And considering the global-warming world we live in, that point would be felt even more strongly than when it came out in 1976.

Worlds Apart (1981)

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Worlds Apart 23a

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Worlds Apart 23b

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Worlds Apart 23c

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Worlds Apart 23d

Publication: 25 April 1981 to 3 October 1981

Artist: Guy Peeters
Writer: Unknown (this story has been incorrectly credited to Pat Mills in other publications)

Summary

“Imagine the dream worlds inside your head becoming real! That’s what happened to six girls from Crawley Comprehensive after an accident with a road tanker carrying dangerous chemicals from a secret government research establishment.” So runs the blurb for this story.

Each world is governed by the respective girl’s characteristic – making it an ideal world for her, but a nightmare for the other girls: “It seems that given a free rein, the worst comes out in us.” The only release from these worlds is for its respective creator to die – and this happens when each creator meets her downfall through the very same characteristic that shaped her world. The respective adventures and nightmares in each world develop as follows:

Sarah (greedy): Sarah’s world is ruled by fat, greed and gluttony. The people only think about food and being as fat as they can possibly be; 20 stone is “such a trim figure”. Even the animals are fat, including the sparrows. Exercise is considered “disgusting”. The girls are emaciated by the standards of this world, even fat Sarah. So the girls are force-fed in hospital until they are so grotesquely obese that they can hardly walk. Sarah is the only one to enjoy this world because she can stuff herself with as much food as she likes and nobody calls her “fatty”. Then Sarah gets a horrible shock when sporty Ann dies from running half a mile because she is too fat. Now Sarah sees the fatty world in a whole new light. Afterwards she falls into a river and drowns because she can’t swim.

Ann (sporty): Ann’s world is ruled by sport. Education, clothes, foodstuffs, food consumption, architecture, city planning, transport, politics, war, and even the death penalty are all linked to sport. In fact, everything revolves around sport and keeping fit at all costs, even if you are old and infirm. Ann simply loves her world because she can indulge in sport at every waking moment. But like the others, Ann’s indulgence becomes her undoing. It begins when the Soviet Union declares war on Britain. War is played with a sports match; the losing team is executed and the invading country just walks in if its team wins. Ann is honoured to be in the British team, but doesn’t know that the Russians are cheating by taking drugs. When Britain loses, Ann meets her downfall by the very thing she loves – sport. The method used to execute her is to be tied to an exercise bicycle until she dies from exhaustion.

Samantha (vain): Samantha’s world is ruled by vanity. It is a fairy tale world and she is Sleeping Beauty – who rules this world more than her royal parents. But Samantha is no fairytale princess. She is cruel, tyrannical, power mad, and indulges in admiring her beauty at every waking moment. Her castle is known as the Castle of Mirrors because there are mirrors everywhere for Samantha to admire her beautiful face. As for the other girls, they are her downtrodden servants and threatened with torture if they displease her. Mo, whom Samantha dislikes, suffers the most in this world – partly because she refuses to be downtrodden.

Then, when Samantha dumps Prince Charming for the Frog Prince, he gets revenge by hiring the witch (Mo’s mother!) who originally put Samantha to sleep. So the witch turns Samantha’s vanity against her with a spell that causes Samantha’s face to appear as a pig when reflected in the mirrors. Samantha becomes hysterical when she realises that she can never see her beautiful face again. “How can I live without admiring myself? I can’t stand it!” Samantha shrieks like a maniac, shattering all the mirrors and herself in the process. Talk about narcissism.

Mo (delinquent): Mo’s world is ruled by crime, where crime, violence and anarchy are the rule. Everyone has prison numbers, and if they are stripped of them they become non-persons and fall prey to lynch mobs. Education at reform schools (which in the girls’ case is modelled on Alcatraz and patrolled by guards with live bullets in their guns) teaches crime (safe-cracking, forgery, framing, pickpocketing etc). The only crime in this world is to do a good deed, which is punishable by lynching – and nearly happens to the other girls. It seems the perfect world for the delinquent Mo to flourish – until she is kidnapped by gangsters and given a pair of concrete shoes when the ransom demand fails. This has Mo anxious to turn over a new leaf if she returns to the real world before she is even thrown into the river to drown.

Clare (intellectual): Clare’s world is ruled intellectualism, and the size of your IQ determines your standing in society. At the top of society are the “swots” and at the bottom are the “dullards” – a dimwitted subhuman species who are classed as animals and are treated as such (experimentation, slaughter houses, etc). The other girls are dullards because Clare always considered them stupid, “so in her world, we are stupid.” Clare is an arrogant, clinical scientist ready to perform experiments on her “dullard” classmates. But she doesn’t get the chance because dullard liberationists break them out of the laboratory and turn them loose into the wild.

Clare comes after them, but she quarrels bitterly with her co-worker who wants to make a dullard wildlife film. Clare protests that this is cruel to the dullards because they cannot survive in the wild. The man retorts that she was cruel herself, for experimenting on them and what’s more, the law states that his word overrules hers because his IQ is higher than hers. Well, these were the rules Clare made for this world. Then the helicopter crashes. Clare is unhurt and is saved by her dullard friends. But she cannot survive in the wild herself; she runs away and dies in an unshown accident.

Jilly (timid): Jilly’s world is ruled by fear. It is a horror-movie Goth world where everything serves only one purpose – to terrify! There is a particular emphasis on vampires, and lessons in school are geared to turn pupils into vampires, with coffin building lessons, blood pudding (with real blood) in domestic science, and first aid class includes mouth-to-neck resuscitation i.e. be bitten on the neck and be turned into one of the Undead.

Clare realises that if Jilly becomes one of the Undead, she will never die – and the only way to escape this horror world is for Jilly to die. They will become trapped in this world if Jilly becomes one of the Undead and never dies, and in the penultimate episode it looks like this is going to happen. The girls do save Jilly from becoming one of the Undead, but she is a girl who is still scared of her own shadow. This too is taken to its extreme – Jilly is attacked and killed by her own shadow.

Afterwards
The girls now wake up in hospital in the real world. They discuss their adventure and ponder over why their worlds were so horrible: “We’re not terrible people, are we?” Clare decides it was because if you take things to extremes, it gets all twisted. The girls then reflect on the lessons they have learned, including becoming more tolerant and understanding, that greed, sport, cleverness and beauty are not everything, and crime does not pay.

Thoughts
“Worlds Apart” was Jinty’s last science fiction/fantasy story before her merge with Tammy in 1981. It was also the last serial that Guy Peeters drew for Jinty. In discussions of girls’ comics this story is widely regarded as Jinty’s ultimate classic in science fiction, not to mention being an incredible adventure story, perils-and-adversity story and a sobering, thought-provoking morality story. It touches all of us because we have all had a dream world at some point and wished they could come true. But if they did, would they live up to our expectations or would they turn out to be the stuff of nightmares?

Although “Worlds Apart” is considered one of the best, perhaps it could have been better. The ending suffers a bit because it looks like it was rushed to make way for the seven-issue ‘countdown’ to the merger. The last world is given short shrift (one and a half episodes while the others get four or five), so it is not as developed as much as the others and Jilly emerges as the only one not to learn anything from her world. Instead, the other girls end up feeling sorry for her for being so terrified. It feels a bit unsatisfying. All right, so maybe Jinty wanted to make a statement here that some people never learn. Or they cannot learn because they are too entrenched in what they are. This is what some of the others begin to think about Jilly: “If this is Jilly’s mind, she must be permanently scared, poor girl!” Then again, the last two episodes were given four pages instead of the usual three. I have observed that an increase in pages and even double episodes can be a sign of pressure to finish a story quickly to clear the decks fast for something big – such as a merger.

Nonetheless, “Worlds Apart” is far more hard hitting and bizarre than anything Jinty had produced before in moralism as it depicts the dangers of extremism (extremes of greed, sports-mania, vanity, crime, intellectualism and fear), and how terrible the consequences can be if extremism is allowed to carry to its logical conclusion. In fact, Clare decides that this is why the worlds were so horrible.

It also took the torture of its heroines to fantastical heights of grotesqueness and perversity that remain unmatched today. For example, in the fat world the girls are force-fed until they are grotesquely fat – probably the “trim figure” of 20 stone. In the sports world they are expected to exercise while they have their school dinners, take cold showers to toughen them up, and run across the town to their dormitories because the run will help keep them fit. And in the horror world, they have classes for building their own coffins for when they are turned into vampires. Talk about digging your own grave….

There is perverse and tongue-in-cheek humour and satire too, such as where the vain world turns the fairy tale on its head. Sleeping Beauty is a tyrant instead of an innocent princess, she jilts her prince, and you find yourself sympathising with the fairy-tale witch who punishes Samantha. There are some jokes even in the horror world – the train station, for example, is called Lugosi station, and Britain is called The United Kingdom of Transylvania. And in the sports world, we learn that Hitler fought World War II via a footy match. Yes, the class is shown a slide of Hitler – “German manager and chief coach” – in his footy gear!