Tag Archives: cruel guardians

To Kill a Rat… [1976]

1066_to_kill_a_rat

Published: Commando #1066

Artist: Cortiella (cover); Cecil T Rigby (story)

Writer: Bernard Gregg

Reprints: None, but the story has been reused. The difference is that the uncle lied about killing the soldiers after the nephew talked.

Special thanks to Colcool007 for the information

Plot

Doug Watson is subjected to bullying and psychological abuse at the hands of his cruel, bullying pro-Nazi Uncle Hermann Braugen during his six-month stays with his German relatives (the other six with an English aunt). During one stay Braugen develops his favourite torture of Doug: lock him in the rat-infested cellar to be terrorised by the rats. As a result, Doug develops an extreme fear of rats (musophobia, also known as murophobia and suriphobia), which Braugen just loves to play upon.

Rat 1

After this particular stay, Doug vows never to go back to his German relatives again, though Uncle Braugen and the rat torture continue to give him nightmares. Fortunately the trauma fades in time, and Doug grows strong enough to join the army when World War II breaks out. He rises fast to corporal rank. He is among the British forces that try in vain to stem the Nazi invasion of France and end up being evacuated from Dunkirk. Doug then moves up to second lieutenant, and he leads his men to a sweep forward against the German forces in North Africa.

But what Doug does not realise is that the man in charge of the German forces against him is none other than his Uncle Braugen, now a colonel. Doug’s forces are successful in driving Braugen’s back. They get cut off and soon Braugen is the last man standing, but he isn’t giving up that easily.

Braugen pretends to surrender when Doug’s forces arrive. Doug is shocked to recognise his Uncle, but Uncle Braugen does not recognise his nephew because Doug has changed quite a bit over the years. Braugen is quite surprised to realise it is Doug when Doug speaks to him alone. Braugen pretends to have reformed, repents the past and asks to bury it. Doug falls for it and foolishly allows Braugen to escape.

Rat 2

Doug then continues to press against Rommel in North Africa and eventually the front into Sicily and then Italy, by which time he is a lieutenant. Then they plan to assault the German forces in Italy. But Doug does not realise Uncle Braugen is up ahead with the German forces in the German-held Castle of Monte Lucia. They consider their position impregnable, but they do not have the much-needed information about the strength of the Allied forces.

The carelessness of one of the British soldiers (lighting up a cigarette) betrays the position of Doug’s forces to the German forces, who surround them and force them to surrender. They are taken to Monte Lucia, but none of them yields the information the Germans want.

Then Braugen walks in, and Doug instantly realises how Braugen had tricked him in North Africa. Braugen takes Doug over for interrogation. Beating him up doesn’t work, but then Braugen recalls the musophobia he had instilled into Doug. He locks Doug into a rat-infested cellar where the sewers are, and tells Doug he will not release him until he is ready to talk. In the cellar the phobia is doing its work. Doug can see there is a sewer in the cellar that could be an escape route, but he is too terrified to use it because of the rats. Eventually the phobia makes Doug tell Braugen everything he needs to know.

Braugen shoots all the other Allied prisoners as he has no further need for them. Doug, having recovered sufficiently from the rat ordeal, manages to break free from Braugen’s goons and escape from Monte Lucia. Braugen does not search for him because he thinks Doug is not worth bothering about.

Rat 3Doug makes it back to his lines, where he reports everything in shame at H.Q. The colonel is not at all understanding about Doug talking under torture and has him arrested for court-martial. However, en route to face the court-martial, Doug just snaps, seizes a gun from his guards, and makes a run for it.

He returns to Monte Lucia to avenge his soldiers, get even with Braugen, and make amends for talking under torture. However, the only way in is through the rat-infested sewer pipe Doug saw earlier. He forces his way into it and the rats. This time hatred helps Doug to overcome his fear when it makes him lash out at the biting rats. By the time Doug is back in the cellar, his musophobia has dissipated and he hardly notices the rats now.

Fortunately the trap door into the cellar is not locked, so Doug is free to make his way into the castle. He finds Braugen’s ammunition stores and uses them to rig the castle to blow from petrol trails and improvised rope fuses, which are to dangle through the sewer pipe. When everything is ready, Doug ignites the petrol with his gun and the Germans’ impregnable fortress goes up in flames.

At a distance, Doug waits for Braugen – the biggest rat of them all in his opinion – to show up among the fleeing Germans. When Braugen does, he is scared for the first time his life, and his shots at Doug are wide. By contrast, Doug is calm and quick to shoot his uncle dead.

The British forces have been approaching Monte Lucia with speed. They are surprised to find its impregnable defences broken and burning, and it is deserted except for one British soldier sitting beside a dead German. Doug goes back to H.Q., confident that everything will be cleared up in view of his heroic action in blowing up the impregnable Monte Lucia single-handled.

Thoughts

Historically, the climax at Monte Lucia is based on the Battle of Monte Cassino. Very loosely, mind you, and it has little bearing on the actual battle.

The issue of child abuse in the story feels ahead of its time (1976) when read today. Abusive guardians were a common feature in girls’ comics, but the abusers were, in essence, doing it to exploit and take advantage of the protagonist one way or other. Uncle Braugen, on the other hand, is not bullying his nephew in order to exploit him. This is deliberate, intentional torture inflicted for sadistic purposes. For this reason, Uncle Braugen could well be the most evil child abuser ever to appear in comics. In any case, he deserves to appear near or even at the top of a list of the top ten child abusers in British comics.

Rat 4

It’s a wonder Uncle Braugen didn’t go into the Gestapo or SS. He has everything it takes to rise quickly there and he would love every minute on the job. He likes nothing better than cruelty, bullying, torture, and showing off his arrogance and huge muscles whenever he gets the chance. He torments his nephew because he is British and he also regards his nephew as a weakling because he is not physically strong. There are no redeeming qualities about Braugen whatsoever, unlike his wife Meg. Aunt Meg is kind and tries to protect her nephew, but there is little she can do against her hefty, bullying husband. Thank goodness the Braugens don’t have children of their own. Why the heck did Meg marry Hermann in the first place? Talk about a mismatch.

There is some stereotyping of Uncle Braugen’s nationality with the line: “The German, like many of his kind, was a bully”. Uncle Braugen is a bully because of his nationality rather than his personality and Nazi sympathies? That comes across as a bit offensive. To add to the stereotyping, Uncle Berman has a scar on his right cheek, presumably from World War I, and is also portrayed as your typical arrogant German, with extra-nasty qualities that make him the ideal Nazi.

Rat 5

It is surprising that Doug Watson makes it into the army, much less rise to the status of lieutenant, considering what a physically weak and emotionally abused boy he was in his childhood. But it is a delightful surprise, an ultimate triumph for the abused boy, and it would be one in the eye for Uncle Braugen. Indeed it takes Uncle Braugen himself by surprise when he first meets his nephew as an adult. By the time Uncle Braugen is actually holding Doug prisoner, Doug himself declares that he is not the frightened little boy anymore. Now he has become a man who can stand up to his uncle and the physical torture Uncle Braugen inflicts on him. He does not even call Braugen “Uncle” anymore; it’s just “Braugen”. But all it takes is the rat phobia to undo all that and turn Doug Watson back into the frightened little boy again, for all the confidence, courage and strength he has gained through the army.

It is fortunate that Doug gets a chance to redeem himself and overcome his rat phobia into the bargain. However, it takes more than determination to succeed and shame over breaking down and talking to overcome the phobia. Although Doug tries, it takes another extremely strong emotion – hatred – to counter the extreme terror because it was the stronger of the two. And the rat torture ultimately backfired on Uncle Braugen because it unwittingly exposed the chink in the armour of the supposedly impenetrable fortress.

When Uncle Braugen initially tortured and terrorised his nephew, he never in his wildest dreams ever thought that the boy he considered a weakling would be the one to cause his death. And on the battlefield too! But that is indeed the case, and it is a most fitting and ironic twist. Mind you, what Aunt Meg would say about her own nephew killing her husband in action we can’t imagine.

 

 

 

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Make-Believe Mandy (1974)

Sample images

Mandy 4

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Mandy 5

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Mandy 6

Publication: 11/5/74-31/8/74
Artist: Ana Rodriguez
Writer: Unknown

Pat Mills once said in an interview that there were three lynchpins that a new comic for girls must have (personally, I think there are five). He identified them as the slave story, the friendship story, and the Cinderella story. In the case of the first Jinty, the slave story was “Merry at Misery House”, the friendship story was “Angela’s Angels” – and the Cinderella story was “Make-Believe Mandy”. Mandy was the first Jinty story drawn by Ana Rodriguez, who would be a regular on the Jinty team for the next two years.

Summary

Mandy is the Cinderella of the Miller household. The parents make her do all the housework and slave in their second hand clothes shop while they devote all their attention and money on their spoiled daughter Dinah. The parents send Dinah to a posh stage school and even hire a hall for her birthday. Mandy takes refuge in dress-up and fantasy, and particularly loves to act as a princess.

The Millers exclude Mandy from Dinah’s birthday celebrations, calling her plain, ugly, useless and not fit to be seen with Dinah. Poor Mandy is starting to believe it herself, but tries to go to the party anyway. But when she arrives, the parents tell her that they didn’t want her and to go away. Dad throws Mandy’s present for Dinah on the ground while Dinah says, “D’you think I want my friends to see what an ugly sister I’ve got?” Mandy now realises her family hate her, and she has no idea why. A mystery to be solved and to hook the readers in even further!

Earlier that evening Dad had seen an advert for an audition for a princess in an amateur play, with all applicants receiving 50p. Now that is a bit weird, isn’t it? Dad threw the paper aside while Dinah scorned such a lowly role. But when Mandy comes home, she finds the advert and decides to have a go, despite how the Millers’ taunts erode her self-confidence. After all, a princess is her favourite fantasy. What nobody realises is that the advert has a connection with the reason for the Millers’ hatred of Mandy.

The Millers hate Mandy even more when she passes the audition (which was as weird as the advert, and Mandy thinks it was a setup). If there is one thing they cannot stand, it is Mandy scoring one over Dinah, and they get more nasty than usual whenever she does. This becomes a critical plot point when Dad cottons on to what is going on here.

Ah, so there is more to the audition than an amateur play? Oh, yes. The producer, Miss Madden, promises Dinah a better life if she passes a series of tests. These tests are a test of character – testing honesty, kindness, loyalty, self-sacrifice, courage and other virtues. What have these got to do with the play? Nothing at all – it is obvious this has more to do with the reason the Millers hate Mandy. The first clue we get is when Miss Madden establishes that there is only a three month age difference between Mandy and Dinah, so how can they be sisters? Aha! So Mandy is not related to the Millers by blood, eh?

Eventually, Dad guesses Miss Madden’s motives. He does not explain what he suspects, but he wangles it for Dinah to go for the audition as well in the hope that she will grab what he thinks Miss Madden has in store for Mandy. He also makes a point of not letting Miss Madden know which girl is his real daughter – hmmm … now, that’s interesting! They also start pretending to be nice to Mandy. But of course the selfish, spoiled Dinah cannot pass the tests of virtue. When Dad finds out he is furious. He tells Dinah that she has thrown away the chance of a lifetime and given it straight to Mandy.

What does he mean? Miss Madden tells Mandy the story of the princess of Slareznia, who was smuggled out of the country when a revolution broke out. A governess brought the princess to England, but then they disappeared. Miss Madden and her agents have been trying to trace the princess and bring her back to Slareznia … yes, Mandy is a real princess! The governess left the princess with the Millers and paid for her upkeep, but evidently made a bad choice of guardians to take care of the princess. Then she vanished, leaving the Millers feeling stuck with Mandy. The whole audition setup had been to find the princess and then determine which of the Miller girls was her. Miss Madden has one last test for Mandy – be on the train to Slareznia departing from Victoria Station. She warns that it will be Mandy’s hardest test.

And she isn’t kidding. As said before, the Millers absolutely hate it when Mandy scores one over Dinah, so seeing Mandy on her throne will be the ultimate insult for them and their spoiled daughter. Moreover, they need Mandy in the shop to pay for Dinah’s stage school fees. So they lock her in the coal cellar to make her miss the train. Mandy struggles to get out through the coal chute. It looks impossible, and Mandy even knocks herself out doing so. But eventually she succeeds – something she didn’t think she could do – and makes a mad dash for the station, where she scrambles on the train just as it is departing. Mandy passes the test that seemed impossible, and Miss Madden starts courting her with royal honours. As the train travels on, it passes by the Millers’ house. They are absolutely furious that Mandy has escaped the cellar. And no doubt they will be even more furious when they find she has made it to Slareznia.

Thoughts

Cinderella is a fairy tale, and this Cinderella-based strip is far more fairy tale than Cinderella-based strips usually are. Usually, it is some talent the heroine has, or long-lost relative, or some kind person that becomes an adoptive parent that rescues the heroine from her drudgery with her cruel guardians. But this one is more the stuff that fairy tales are made of, with the heroine turning out to be a real princess, and a series of trials that the good sister passes because she is virtuous, and the bad sister does not because she is spoiled and horrid. The ‘series of trials’ element would be used in another of Jinty’s Cinderella stories, “The Valley of Shining Mist”, in 1975. In that strip it looks even more like a fairy tale because it seems there is real magic at work.

The methods Miss Madden uses to determine which girl is the princess do come across as a bit bizarre, convoluted and contrived. And it all depended on whether or not Mandy would go for the audition, and then stick with Miss Madden once she found there was no play but some weird setup with no explanation. Surely Miss Madden could have worked out something much more credible and simple to find the princess?

On the other hand, it all added to the mystery element – why the Millers hate Mandy – which is another reason readers would have kept reading. Mystery stories were always popular in girls’ comics. The hatred the Millers have for Mandy, and the mystery about the reason for it, add a further level of drama and thrills to the story. Usually the motives of the guardians have in exploiting the heroine are plain to see (cheap labour, greed, laziness, cruel personalities) and are not part of the plot development. But in this story they are, which makes the story a bit different to other Cinderella-based strips, where the story development focuses exclusively on surviving and escaping the drudgery. It also makes the Millers slightly more three-dimensional villains than most cruel guardians in a Cinderella-based strip, who do it just because they are nasty, greedy, and favour their spoiled daughter (if there is one). Eventually, it turns out that this is why the Millers treat Mandy so badly too, but there is more background and edge to it than most.