Tag Archives: Bill Harrington

Spider Woman (1980)

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Published: Tammy & Misty 19 January 1980 – 22 March 1980 

Episodes: 10

Artists: Jaume Rumeu 19 January to 1 March 1980; Mario Capaldi 8 March to 22 March 1980 

Writer: Bill Harrington

Translations/reprints: Misty Presents: The Jaume Rumeu Collection (2021)

In the last entry we briefly touched on the subject of Spider Woman. So here she is for the final entry in our Halloween lineup.

Plot

Mrs Webb, the villainess from Misty’s “The Black Widow”, returns. She has abandoned revenge for her husband’s death in favour of world domination, and has established a base on an island in Australasia that was once a leper colony. Her new weapon is a strain of man-eating spiders she has developed, and her plan is to use them to scare the whole world into submitting to her and her spiders. 

Accidentally stumbling into this are Paula Moore, on holiday in Australia, and her grandparents. Their boat got blown off course by a storm and they discover the ship that was the first test for Mrs Webb’s man-eating spiders. It’s a ghost ship, with crew stripped to the bones from the spiders, which are still on board. 

Sensing danger from the spiders, they quickly head back to their boat and radio mainland to report the incident, but Mrs Webb is watching them on her monitor. Posing as naval authority, she kidnaps them and strands them on her island base, with nothing but decrepit old leper huts for accommodation and tales of leper ghosts to frighten them. Gran is bitten by one of the spiders Mrs Webb left to guard their boat and falls gravely ill. In her delirium she raves about spiders and ghosts of lepers who don’t want them around. They are forced to take shelter in one of the leper huts. 

Paula goes in search of the woman who stranded them in the hope of treatment for gran. Mrs Webb has her servant, Gorza, who looks like some sort of weird, lumbering cross between a dumb waiter, Frankenstein and a ogre, capture Paula and bring her to her base. She introduces herself and her plans to Paula, and she wants Paula’s full cooperation if her family is to stay alive. She knows the Navy will soon discover the ghost ship, and she wants Paula and her family to tell them of her great power. Mrs Webb then releases Paula.

Paula finds her gran is now recovering from the bite. She tells her family who they are up against, but they discover their boat, previously guarded by the spiders, is now gone altogether. And in the bushes, something or someone is watching them. Later they find a chimpanzee in the bushes, which is not native to the island, and they conclude he must have escaped from Mrs Webb’s experiments. But gran is convinced someone else is around and raves about leper ghosts and the previous inhabitants being into voodoo and black magic. Back at the hut, they do find evidence someone else could be around, but it’s in the form of a delicious meal waiting for them. 

Back at the ghost ship, the Navy have found the horrors on board and guess who they are up against before Mrs Webb even sends her first message to them on her TV monitor. She informs them she has hostages. They are to return to the mainland and report what her spiders are capable of, and she is going to do the same to the whole world if there is no global submission to her. The Navy radio her message back to HQ and start a search of all the islands in a 30-mile radius for the hostages. However, Mrs Webb is using her helicopter to see whether they are obeying her orders or not, and when she sees they are not, she drops a case of her man-eating spiders on the ship, who are soon doing their deadly work. The Navy hose the spiders off the ship and their radar tracked her helicopter. They are now hot on her trail.

Paula and her family now discover who else is on the island: an ex-leper named Jarvis. He remained on the island after being cured of leprosy and wants to join the fight against Mrs Webb. He shows Paula and grandpa a secret entrance into her lair, and they take advantage of her absence to sneak in. But they discover the entrance is guarded by an enormous killer spider. Jarvis quickly dispatches the spider, and they enter Mrs Webb’s lair to use her equipment to call for help.

Unfortunately it’s at this point that Mrs Webb returns and catches them. Mrs Webb straps Jarvis to a table to be the first test of her latest serum – one that can turn a human being into a spider! She adds that she has not developed an antidote.

Then a bombardment from the Navy shakes the base, causing Mrs Webb to accidentally inject the serum into herself. And like she said, there is no antidote available. Gorza is knocked out by falling debris. Mrs Webb makes a run for her helicopter, but as she prepares to take off, the serum starts to take effect and one of her arms turns into a spider’s leg. 

Paula impulsively makes a rush for the helicopter but is captured by Mrs Webb. Mrs Webb uses her remaining arm to get the helicopter into the air and tries to use Paula as a hostage against the Navy. When Paula yells at them not to give in to the threat, Mrs Webb angrily throws her against the controls, causing the helicopter to pitch. Mrs Webb makes another lunge at Paula to kill her with spider venom, causing another pitch that makes her fall out of the helicopter and into the sea. The Navy fail to find her, dead or alive, or in what form. They pick up Paula and her grandparents, but Jarvis wants to stay on the island.

Thoughts

Mrs Webb was the only Misty villain to return for a sequel, and one of the few who could. Misty being Misty, she liked to send her villains to sticky ends (an end Mrs Webb finally meets in this story!). Not all Misty villains met this fate, and Mrs Webb’s first story hinted she escaped and might be back. It’s a bit odd this followup didn’t appear in Misty when there was still time for it to do so before the merger. At IPC, a sequel tended to appear within a year after the original, and the first Mrs Webb story appeared in 1978. Perhaps the sequel had not been written at that stage? Did they decide to save the sequel for the merger? Or did ye Editor trawl through old issues of Misty to see what could be brought into the merger and ordered the sequel?

When I first read this follow-up, I found Mrs Webb way too camp and over the top for my taste, an opinion that has not changed much. Also, she was more into demented grandstanding than menace, which made her even more annoying. In her first story her planning showed shrewdness and cunning despite her insanity, but now her plans don’t seem to be well thought out. She seriously believes she can scare the whole world into submission by threatening them with spiders, even if they are ones capable of eating people alive? All the Navy had to do to stop her man-eating spider attack was bring out the hoses, and the world has insecticides and fumigation as well. 

Also showing lack of proper planning is how Mrs Webb wants to make use of Paula. She captures Paula and demands her cooperation, but she does not enslave her or ever make any real use of her as she did with her two slaves Sadie and Freda in her first story. After making her demands she just lets Paula go. She does not even use an enslaving device on Paula, which she did with Sadie and Freda. Doing so would have added even more punch to the plot. Instead, one is left feeling Mrs Webb capturing Paula at all was rather pointless, and the only purpose it serves in the plot is to inform Paula what’s going on. Okay, when comparing Mrs Webb now to what she was like in her first story, it is obvious that her insanity has increased, very likely at the expense of clear thinking. So perhaps it is understandable.

Also coming across as a bit improbable is the amazing recovery gran makes after the spider bite. Her recovery, without any medication, is so miraculous it’s unbelievable. She actually leaves the island looking hale and hearty, as if she had never been bitten at all. Was she lucky and only received a sublethal bite, or did she have some kind of fluke resistance to the poison?

The story could have done with a fuller explanation of who Mrs Webb was for the benefit of readers who had not read her original story, particularly the Tammy readers. We’re given the impression she has struck before and the Navy captain says she’s “the fiend who terrorised England some years back”, but there are no details. Some flashback or explanation would have been welcome by readers who sensed another story here and wanted to know the gist at least, and it would have enhanced the story more.

On the plus side, the story sure is high on the gross-out factor, which is so rare and bold for girls’ comics. Panels showing people being eaten alive by spiders, one being driven mad with pain and throwing himself overboard, and corpses that have been eaten to the bones must have shocked Tammy readers and given them nightmares for days. It’s also high on creepiness and sinister atmosphere, and it’s not just those spiders that are genetically engineered to be dangerous weapons. It’s the setting on the leper island itself. Those sinister-looking, decaying huts that were once home to lepers and the island graveyard full of leper graves creep us out immediately. Mrs Webb and then gran’s delirium set everyone high on anxiety and terror that there could be ghosts lurking around that are every bit as evil and dangerous as Mrs Webb’s spiders. And in a place like that, we’re more than ready to believe there are ghosts or something even more diabolical. Winding us up even more is the buildup to something or someone else on the island who is watching the stranded family. It’s quite a twist to have it turn out to be benign and friendly instead of menacing.

The apex of the horror is definitely the experiment to turn a human being into a spider. A human actually turning into a spider of unknown hybrid? Cor blimey! Having Mrs Webb herself not knowing exactly what the end result will be really adds to it.

It is a great Misty-style comeuppance to have this backfire on Mrs Webb and set her on the path to turning into a spider herself. It is a pity we don’t see the final form of this transformation. It feels like another missed opportunity and we’re rather left dangling as to how it would have turned out. It would have really turned the story up a few notches to have our protagonists up against a totally transformed Mrs Webb. We can just see her as the biggest Black Widow spider you ever saw, but still with a human mind that is totally insane, rampaging like Godzilla, and maybe laying clutches of eggs that hatch into swarms of giant killer spiders. That would have turned it into a really exciting story that would have readers on the edge of their seats while giving them the stuff of nightmares. 

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.