Tag Archives: horror

The Black Widow [1978]

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Publication: Misty 17 June 1978 – 16 September 1978

Episodes: 14

Artist: Jaume Rumeu

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Anita 1980 as De Zwarte weduwe [The Black Widow]

Sequel: Spider-Woman, Tammy & Misty, 19 January 1980 – 22 March 1980

Plot 

In “her silken lair, hidden from the eyes of the world” is Mrs Webb, who is to become known to the world as The Black Widow. She calls out to her spiders, “Tonight is the time…the time of the spiders!”

Not far away is Corey End School, where we meet our two protagonists. The first is Sadie Lincoln, who wants to be a scientist. But Sadie has phobia about creepy crawlies, especially (you guessed it) spiders. The science teacher, Miss Dexter, tells Sadie she must overcome this if she is to handle biological specimens and make her way as a scientist. The second is Freda Lawrence, a rather unlikeable girl who thinks Sadie is always sucking up to teachers.

Sadie prefers astronomy as a science, and is spending the night with her telescope. She is surprised to see a type of meteor, which bursts into fragments. She goes out to investigate and finds a capsule containing a spider. She takes it to Miss Dexter, who cannot identify the species, but puts it in an aquarium for study. They are astonished to find it has doubled in size 24 hours later. And it continues to grow. They don’t realise they have captured the spider that should be at the centre of Webb’s new web. Webb goes in search of the spider and says there will be “no mercy for anyone keeping him!”

Webb turns up at the school, suspecting it is the place to start looking for the spider. Telling everyone she is on a mission to save spiders from the cruelty of man, she promises a £5 reward for anyone who brings a spider to her. Figuring she will get more than that if she brings Webb the super-growing spider, Freda steals it from the science lab. Sadie catches Freda and suspects what she is doing. She tags along with Freda to Webb’s house in the hope of grabbing it back.

They are both surprised to find the house is derelict. Inside, they are caught in a mechanical web manned by a giant mechanical spider. But this is actually the mechanism that brings them to Webb’s lair. Webb scares them into handing over the spider.

Webb explains that she and her husband were biological chemists. Her husband was forced to participate in a military biological experiment that killed him when it went wrong. Now she is out for revenge on Britain with the aid of her specially engineered spiders – and with Sadie and Freda, who are going to be her instruments. Freda says if there’s a few bob in it, she will be happy to do it. This disgusts Sadie, who also expresses her fear of spiders. At this, Webb hypnotises Sadie into liking spiders. She then gives Freda a hypnotic prompt “you creep!” This will have Sadie doing whatever Freda commands when she says it. She also imprisons the girls in slave pendants that give them electric shocks whenever they try to remove them. The pendants label Freda as Tara and Sadie as Tula. Finally, Webb gives Freda a bag of spiders for their first test. She then sends them out, with Sadie having no recollection of what happened.

What Webb does not realise is that Freda is not loyal to her because she was too shocked at the sight of the hypnotism done to Sadie. Freda is only playing along with Webb because she does not want to be hypnotised as well.

Using the “you creep!” prompt, Freda has Sadie unleash the spiders at school, which causes a panic. Afterwards, Webb says the spiders have been installed with transmitters, so she can track them on her electronic map.

Sadie has no memory of what happens when the hypnotic power wears off, so she cannot explain her action to her headmistress – or her absenteeism the next day. This is, of course, because they have been directed to their of next target – one Major-General Oliver Bullivant. Webb blames Bullivant for her husband’s death. The girls plant Webb’s spider on Bullivant’s dog. When the spider bites Bullivant, he falls into a paralysis that leaves him incapable of speaking and doctors baffled. However, the investigation, led by Inspector Bird, is soon drawing the right conclusions. Bird is now searching for the spider and the two girls.

Freda wants to call it quits, but when she tries to tell Webb, Webb demands to know the fate of the Bullivant spider. Webb realises the spider is still with Sadie and uses the pendant to summon her – only to find that Sadie has let the spider go. Later, the spider turns up in the papers that a despatch rider is taking to Bullivant’s. The spider bites and paralyses the dispatch rider, causing him to have a crash. Bird realises what happened and is now searching the scene of the accident for the spider. Then Carfax of SI9 turns up and tells Bird that someone stole a batch of spiders that the Ministry had been testing in the stratosphere. The purpose had been to create super-spiders, but the results are unknown because of the theft. Carfax has a pretty good idea who the thief is (guess who?), but is having trouble locating her. The stratosphere theft also explains the “meteor” that Sadie observed earlier.

Meanwhile, the next target is Professor Lawton, who devised the experiment that killed the husband. This time the girls are to plant the spider on Lawton’s baby. But as they leave, they are attacked by rough girls. Freda tells the leader, “Go an’ jump in the lake, you creep!”

Oops – Freda unwittingly used the hypnotic prompt, which has Sadie jumping in the lake and losing the spider. When Webb finds out the spider’s fate, she is hysterical and furious as she regards her spiders as her children. She decides to go out and do the job herself. However, Mrs Lawton intercepts the spider and crushes it, which means another upset for Webb. Also, Lawton compares notes with Bird and they see the connection.

When Webb returns to her base, she gets another shock – Freda has used the hypnotic prompt to get Sadie to smash her tank of beloved spiders. Webb uses her spider powers to turn the spiders on them. Freda pretends that they have learned their lesson and Webb calls the spiders off.

Sadie now understands what is going on and she quietly teams up with Freda. But Webb hypnotises her into delivering a spider to the Prime Minister. Webb plans to use this attack to blackmail Britain into capitulating to her. However, Freda uses the “you creep!” command to bring Sadie back to Webb’s lair to do a more thorough job of smashing the place.

The police arrive. The girls try to explain – and the police are forced to take them seriously when they find millions of spiders crawling all over their car! Soon, the girls are explaining everything to Bird himself.

Meanwhile, there has been a series of blocked drains in London. Investigation reveals an enormous web and equally enormous spider in the drains. It is the spider Sadie captured earlier. It was engineered to be a super-growing spider. It has now grown to giant proportions, feeding on sewer rats – and is still growing! What’s more, it is moving on from rats to people as prey and causing panic in the underground railway station. The giant spider, complete with its web, emerges in Trafalgar Square, which causes even more panic and makes the news. Webb sees the broadcast and gloats, “The day of the spiders is here at last!”

Back at her lair, Webb has less to gloat about when she discovers what the girls have done. But when the authorities arrive, there is no sign of Webb. Then they hear her over a loudspeaker, where she finally delivers her ultimatum: if they want to stop the spider – which is now moving on from Trafalgar Square and travelling across the country via the power lines – they must do what she says. The first of her demands is to bring the girls to a rendezvous point, where the spider is waiting to devour them.

The authorities bring the girls, and Webb orders them to climb up to the spider. But the authorities have prepared a trap. The national grid is down, but the power station is waiting for their signal to turn on the power. Ironically, it is accidentally turned on when an employee is scared by a spider. As planned, the giant spider gets fried. Webb falls to the ground, though not to her death. At the same time, the slave pendants fall off Freda and Sadie. Webb is taken to hospital, but they are surprised when she seems to disappear into thin air from the ambulance. A spider scuttles away from the ambulance unnoticed, and there is a question mark after “The End”.

Thoughts

Misty was huge on scary spider stories and playing on the common fear of arachnophobia. In her very first issue she had “Red Knee – White Terror!” where a girl has many close calls with a poisonous spider without realising it but in the final panel it looks like her luck may have finally run out. Other spider-themed stories included “Web of Lies”, “Dressed to Kill!” and “Spider Woman” (no connection to Mrs Webb) in the 1984 Misty annual. But the Black Widow tops them all. What is not to love – or scare the living daylights out of you – with how she uses spiders as deadly weapons? Poisonous spiders, flesh-eating spiders, and spiders growing to monstrous proportions and emerging from the sewers of London to strike terror into everyone who sees it.

Mrs Webb comes from a long line of mad, evil scientists. However, she is more rounded than most of them as there is a sympathetic element to her. Her insanity stems from the grief of losing her husband, and she believes the military was responsible for it. There may even be some truth to Webb’s suspicions because Bullivant is such a pompous, overbearing, unlikeable git. He forces his unfortunate batman to do jobs that are not supposed to be part of a batman’s job. At any rate, readers must have felt a sneaking sympathy for Webb when she shuts Bullivant up with her spider and felt that she had given Bullivant what was coming to him.

But sympathies for Webb don’t last. After all, she is not just doing it for revenge – she’s doing it for power as well and is out for conquest. In the sequel she will take this a stage further and be out for world conquest. But it’s not just for herself – it’s for the spiders, and she seems to see herself as a champion of them. There are no limits to what she won’t do or the types of spiders she will devise as weapons.

This story gives the military a chance to shine, something it seldom does in girls’ comics. Usually when the military does feature it is in a humorous sense (Annie’s Army in June) or female soldiers (Kitty Hawke in Girl I). But here the military is portrayed more realistically, given plenty of screen time in the story, and more time is devoted to developing the Army characters. This is all for a very credible reason – Webb’s attack is directly against the Army, and it’s personal. Whoever wrote this story must have been one of the Battle writers.

However, although the military is given more spotlight than girls’ serials usually give it, the centre stage is still given to girl protagonists and the true resolution of the story depends on them. Pairing a principled girl with an unsavoury one is not an unusual one in girls’ comics; Fairy Tale in Princess II was one to use it. What is unusual is that it is the unsavoury girl who is proactive against Webb and is key to resolving the story. By contrast, the more moralistic girl is far less proactive and more prone to succumbing to Webb’s brainwashing. The key is in their strength of character. Freda may be the more unpleasant girl, but she is the much stronger and more resourceful of the two girls. She may be greedy, willing to do it for money, but she has her limits. These stop her from turning into Webb’s willing flunky. These also help to redeem Freda as a character. Sadie, by contrast, may be more principled, but she has a weaker personality and is more prone to succumbing to Webb’s power. However, the brainwashing of Sadie enables Freda to turn Webb’s power against her on several occasions.

Mrs Webb was the only Misty villain who was brought back for a sequel. She was not killed off as many of Misty’s villains were, such as Dr Bracken from “The Body Snatchers”. Misty had several of her villains plunging to their deaths, as in “House of Horror”, but Mrs Webb not only survives her fall but escapes as well, with a hint she might be back. Perhaps Misty decided she was too good a villain to kill off. Or maybe it was all those spider menaces that she loved to use time and time again.

 

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Last Misty Ever Published – 12 January 1980

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  • Message from Misty
  • The Body Snatchers – final episode (artist Maria Barrera)
  • Country Churchyard – complete story (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • The Ghost Of Meggernie – text story
  • Friends – complete story
  • House of Horror – final episode (artist Isidro Mones)
  • Screaming Point! – final episode (artist J. Badia)
  • Crowning Glory – complete story (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Miss T (artist Joe Collins)

 

Misty ends her run with #101, and there is “important news” (rather than the more usual “great news”) about her merge into Tammy next week. In the Misty message, Misty informs readers that she now has go back to the misty lands to fight dark forces. But so as not to deprive her readers of their spine-chilling stories, she is making arrangements with the Storyteller of next week’s Tammy to bring them, while at other times bringing them herself. She then refers readers to page eleven for the “important news”.

Misty Message

All of Misty’s serials end in this issue, so there are no unfinished Misty stories carrying on in the merger. But this is not the case with Tammy: for the first issue of the merger, “Sister in the Shadows” will be on its third episode, “Cindy of Swan Lake” and “Daughter of the Desert” somewhere around the middle, and “Make the Headlines, Hannah!” on the penultimate episode. Misty readers must have been a bit annoyed to start reading unfinished stories (though it was all too common with mergers). Since  Hannah was near the end, couldn’t Tammy have doubled her up a bit so she would finish before the merger issue, and perhaps hold off “Sister in the Shadows” for a couple of weeks to allow for it?

Message from Misty.jpg

It says something that Misty has no “Beasts” or “Nightmare” story in this issue, though the “Friends” story would qualify as a “Beasts” story as it features a dog. Still, it is appropriate that Misty finishes on one of her comeuppance stories, entitled “Crowning Glory”. Rona’s act of jealousy (drugging her cousin Catherine in order to cut off her golden hair until she is nearly bald) has consequences that Rona did not intend – a fall downstairs that kills Catherine. Manslaughter? Now that is something Misty will definitely not allow Rona to get away with, even though Rona is now stricken with guilt. The last two panels of Misty are dedicated to the crowning glory of Rona’s comeuppance:

Crowning Glory

 

 

 

First Misty Ever Published – 4 February 1978

Misty cover

  • Cover – (artist Maria Barrera)
  • Message from Misty – (artist Shirley Bellwood)
  • The Cult of the Cat – first episode (artist H. Romeu)
  • The Sentinels – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Malcolm Shaw)
  • Paint It Black – first episode (artist Brian Delany, writer Alan Davidson)
  • Moodstone – complete story – (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Roots (“Nightmare!” story) – (artist Maria Barrera, writer Pat Mills)
  • Moonchild – first episode (artist John Armstrong, writer Pat Mills)
  • Miss T – (artist Joe Collins)
  • Red Knee – White Terror! (“Beasts” story) – (artist John Richardson, writer Pat Mills)

In previous posts we have covered the first Jinty and last Jinty, and the first Tammy and last Tammy. Now we cover the third of the trio – the first Misty and the last Misty. We begin with the first Misty.

Pat Mills conceived Misty as the girls’ answer to 2000AD. Like Tammy, it would be intended to be revolutionary and go against the grain of ballet, pony and school stories. But Misty would do it with spooky stories and horror that were meant to frighten readers, yet fascinate them at the same time. Misty followed hard on the heels of the demise of Spellbound, a kindred comic in DCT that was a similar brave experiment, but had only lasted 69 issues.

Roots ending
Shock panel from “Roots”, Misty #1.

Although Misty was meant to kick ass with her spooky stories, there were still instances of editorial interference in some of the storytelling to tone things down and “not to scare the readers too much”. Two instances occurred in the first issue alone. In “Roots”, if Pat had had had his way, the story would have ended on the panel above. But the editor included another panel to dilute the shock, which Mills deletes from the reproduction of “Roots” in his discussion of Misty. In “Red Knee – White Terror!”, also written by Mills, the climactic attack of the spider on the girl in the bath is similarly amended to become a practical joke from her brother (below). But she still isn’t safe from the alert about a poisonous spider that has crept into the country in an import of bananas, some of which she bought earlier…

Red Knee White Terror
Climax to “Red Knee – White Terror!” from Misty #1.

Misty would go for several complete stories in each issue, some labelled “Nightmare!” and others “Beasts” (featuring an animal of some sort, ranging from spiders to dogs) to break up the comic a bit. They often featured unpleasant girls who came to a sticky end of some sort. The first of these is “Moodstone”, about a bad-tempered girl. “Moodstone” also showed readers that from the first, Misty would feature some full-colour pages in each issue, which is something neither Tammy nor Jinty ever did.

Moodstone
First full colour page from Misty #1.

I remember the cover of the first issue being advertised on television. I had never seen that before – or since – and for this reason that cover has stuck in my mind. As Misty goes, the cover is unusual because it was drawn specifically for cover purposes. It does not feature Misty (not even as a small head beside the logo) and has no bearing on the contents inside. Future covers would go for showing Misty herself or a full-blown cover version of a panel inside the comic. We do not meet Misty herself until we come to the inside page, where she delivers her first message to her readers.

The first story starts Misty off in style with the rendering of the Egyptian Temple. Sumptuous is the word for it. The moment you see that page, you just want to read “The Cult of the Cat”. This is the only story in Misty to spawn a sequel (not counting the sequel to “The Black Widow” that appeared in the merger later). It also inspires the free gift that will come in the next issue – a cat ring just like the one the protagonist in this story wakes up to find on her finger all of a sudden.

Cult of the Cat
Opening to “The Cult of the Cat”.

The splash panel that introduces us to “The Sentinels” (a pair of apartment blocks, one normal and one avoided because of strange disappearances) is no less impressive. Mr Richards defies both the reputation of the Sentinel – “it’s just superstitious nonsense, all that talk about the Sentinels” and warnings from his daughter and other relatives – and takes his family to squat there because they are homeless. Now why do we get the feeling that whatever’s going on with the Sentinel, it’s Mr Richards who is going to cop the worst of it?

The Sentinels
Meet “The Sentinels”!

The writers of Misty would draw heavily from popular books and movies. They start off with the Carrie-inspired serial, “Moonchild”, which proved hugely popular with readers. Rosemary Black is beaten and abused by her mother, who calls her “evil” and “wicked” for no apparent reason. But the mother is very eccentric in any case; she isn’t a religious fanatic like her counterpart in Carrie, but she does not allow electricity in her house, and wears a cloak when she goes out that makes her look like a witch, as does that frightening look on her face. At school, Rosemary is bullied by Norma Sykes, but unlike Carrie, Rosemary does have a friend as well. Then, when Rosemary discovers a strange moon mark on her forehead, things begin to happen that may have some bearing on her mother’s bizarre attitude and teach Norma a lesson to boot…

Miss T
The first appearance of Miss T. From Misty #1.

In “Paint It Black”, Maggie has never been good for anything much, much less being good at art. But then she finds a box of paints in a derelict house and suddenly finds herself able to paint a picture of a mysterious girl. The picture frightens Maggie for some reason – and the girl has a pretty frightened expression on her face, too. Now what can be the reason for that?

Although Misty was a horror comic, she did not leave out the humour, mainly in the form of a Joe Collins cartoon character, Miss T. Miss T would attract huge controversy on the letters page, with readers divided over whether she was a ridiculous feature in a horror comic that should be removed, or if she was needed to help balance the comic. One reader even proposed a Miss T fan club “S.O.W.” (Save Our Witch) to help keep her in the comic. We have no information on what became of S.O.W., but Miss T would not only remain but would also carry over into the merge with Tammy, where she became a companion to Edie. During the Tammy & Jinty merger they would join forces with Snoopa to become “The Crayzees”.

Tammy and Misty 19 January 1980

Tammy and Misty cover 19 January 1980

Cover artist: John Richardson

  • Bella – new story (artist John Armstrong)
  • Daughter of the Desert (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Sister in the Shadows (artist Giorgio Giorgetti)
  • Spider Woman – first episode (artist Jaume Rumeu aka Homero Romeu)
  • Edie and Miss T (artist Joe Collins)
  • Put Yourself in the Picture! – Quiz (artist Juliana Buch)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Friend Pepi – Strange Story from the Mists (artist José Ariza?)
  • Make the Headlines, Hannah! (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Cindy of Swan Lake (artist Ana Rodriguez)

Sometimes we deviate from the main topic to bring attention to topics that are related to Jinty. So this entry goes off-topic to discuss the issue where Misty merged with Tammy.

The merger brings one change to the Tammy logo – the floral patterns disappear and the font becomes solid, straight red.

The merger still resonates years later – mostly because a number of Misty readers were not happy with it and wanted the original back. The short-lived Best of Misty Monthly that appeared some years after the merger was a response to the demand for the return of Misty. A “Best of” monthly was something neither Tammy nor Jinty ever had, though Girl (series 2) did get one as well. Even today, there are efforts to bring Misty back in one form or other.

At the time, the merger itself must have been something of a disappointment for a number of Misty readers because there was not much Misty in it (it was for me, and I was a Tammy reader). Things did not improve much once Tammy’s current serials finished, which would have made more room for overt Misty material. “The Loneliest Girl in the World”, “The Sea Witches”, (possibly) “A Girl Called Midnight”, “Danger Dog” and “The Shadow of Sherry Brown” look like they may have come from Misty. Some of them, such as “The Loneliest Girl in the World”, were undoubtedly Misty. But in other cases it can be hard to say if the spooky story was Misty or Tammy; after all, Tammy ran spooky stories too. Later on, Misty’s text stories returned; they must have taken the advice of one reader who suggested it. Mini-serial spooky stories, such as “The House Mouse”, also appeared occasionally, just as they did in the original Misty.

Edie and Miss T

Misty arguably made her mark more in the Strange Stories, which became “Strange Stories from the Mist”, with Misty herself being rotated with the Storyteller. Miss T and Edie merged into one cartoon, which is a simple matter, because Joe Collins drew them both. They are a bit of an odd couple (ordinary girl and witch), which perhaps made the cartoon even better. Once Snoopa joined in the Jinty merger, they became “The Crayzees”.

Misty also brought a darker tone into Tammy, which was still felt even during the Tammy and Jinty merger, when “Monster Tales” started. There was no way either Tammy or Jinty would run anything like that – it had to be Misty. Perhaps “Monster Tales” was originally conceived for Misty, but there was no room until Bessie, Wee Sue and Molly Mills were amalgamated into one feature “Old Friends”, which they shared in rotation.

Some letters from Tammy readers indicate that the incorporation of Misty must have been a shock to them. Several commented that they found her spooky theme not only unsettling but unrealistic as well. Indeed, “Spider Woman” (a sequel to “The Black Widow” from Misty) must have given them all nightmares full of spiders. Spider Woman is an insane scientist who could well have been the first villain in Tammy to be out for world domination. Even more frightening, the story plays on the common fear of spiders to heights that Tammy readers had never seen before. We see spiders capable of eating people alive and leaving only the bones, giant spiders, poisonous spiders, and even a serum that can turn a human being into a spider!

Spider Woman 1

 

Spider Woman 2

The merger issue also has a very interesting quiz that shows that Tammy and Misty made serious efforts to accustom readers to the tone of the two different comics. Here readers are not only invited to imagine themselves in the places of the heroines in the story, but are also informed about the stories that will replace the currently running “Cindy of Swan Lake”, “Sister in the Shadows”, “Daughter of the Desert” and “Make the Headlines, Hannah!” This is the only case where I have seen upcoming stories being revealed in this way. Normally we are not informed about any new stories until the week before they start. The quiz also informs us that Bessie Bunter has been demoted from a regular weekly strip to a character “who you’ll meet from time to time”.

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In later weeks, Tammy and Misty ran another feature to get readers further acquainted with Tammy regulars (two of whom, Bessie and Molly, were not even appearing at the time). This was “Misty’s House of Mystery”, a game where Tammy regulars Sue, Bella, Bessie and Molly are caught in Misty’s House of Mystery, which is full of horrors such as blood showers and man-eating plants! The game is reproduced below. Imagine Jinty regulars going through a thing like that….

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And in this issue, Bella starts her bid for the Moscow Olympics by entering the world qualifier in Texas, with the help of her coach and her wealthy guardians, the Courtney-Pikes. Sounds like Bella’s hopes for the Olympics are better than in her 1976 Montreal Olympics story, where she had to make her way alone without even a passport, but only got as far as participating in the opening ceremony. But unexpected expenses that cause money shortages, unhelpful Texan coaches, and the sudden withdrawal of the Courtney-Pikes without explanation are already leaving her up the proverbial creek without a paddle before the event even begins.

The Birds (1978)

Sample images

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Birds 3.jpg

Publication: 29 April 1978-13 May 1978

Artist: Keith Robson

Writer: Len Wenn

Summary

A young woman stares at the ruins of a chemical factory and recalls “all the terror that led to that last tragic day…”

The terror begins innocently enough, in the days when a copse stood in the place of the ruin. The woman, then a young girl, plays with a young boy, Pete. Her name is Shona, but he calls her Ginger. Some years later, their playtime in the copse is interrupted by an unpleasant looking man who tells them they are trespassing. He explains that the trees are going to be cleared for a building. Pete strikes back at the man by catapulting a stone at him, which makes short work of his bowler hat. They then make a fast run for it.

Six months later the building, revealed to be a chemical factory, is opened. Dad is furious at how it belches smoke all over the countryside and cannot imagine why planning permission was granted.

Soon after, the birds start acting strangely. They attack animals and people. They perch on branches or whatever is to hand, and wait to pounce. They pounce on whatever there is to eat, even things that birds do not normally eat. Crops and gardens get stripped clean. Their attacks grow worse, and people are driven indoors, securing whatever food and animal feed they have so the birds do not get it. Dad suspects the chemical factory has caused the change in the birds’ behaviour as they did not act like this before it was built.

When Dad tries to phone for help, he finds the line dead because the birds have chewed through the wires. There is no help unless they go out and get it. Pete and Ginger offer to cycle to town to get help. But the birds follow them and start gathering in wait. Shona realises that this the same way they lay in wait for a mouse before attacking and killing it, and realise that the birds intend to do the same to them.

The birds attack, forcing Ginger and Pete back to the farm. And at the farm, the birds attack the windows of the farm house. They are trying to break in, sensing the food hoarded inside. Mum and Dad try to get to town in their old car, although it has not been on the road in years. But the birds attack and force the car off the road and down into the quarry. The parents are killed and Ginger is now an orphan.

The inquiry afterwards vindicates Dad’s suspicions: “airborne particles in the smoke causing a chemical change in the birds”.

Back in the present, it is revealed that Ginger and Pete are now married and managing her parents’ farm. Rover the dog also survived and is still at the farm.

Thoughts

No doubt this is based on the Alfred Hitchcock classic of the same name. But unlike the film version, where the cause of the birds’ behaviour is never explained, the cause is made evident when we see the ruins of the chemical factory in the opening panel of the first episode. Jinty is making yet another of her environmental statements that she was known for in her SF stories. Here she is commenting on the dangers of pollution to the environment, a statement that would be returned to with even fiercer emphasis in The Forbidden Garden in 1979.

The story sure is frightening and disturbing with its depictions of the waves of birds who grow progressively vicious in their attacks, right up to trying to break through the windows of the farmhouse. The moments where they just wait quietly on the sidelines before they attack send shudders of suspense right through the panel. We get some very horrifying moments, such as when the birds attack the mouse and Ginger is revolted by what they do next. Later, the birds try to do the same to a helpless kitten, but Pete and Ginger save its life by beating off the birds. And the climax of the story, where the birds kill the parents by causing their car to fall into a quarry, is a shocker.

Seldom did Jinty delve into horror, but this would be one of her best horror moments if not for one thing – like The Changeling in the same year, it only has three episodes and is therefore nowhere near as developed as it should have been. The resolution of the story is given far too much short shrift and too many things are left unexplained. Once the parents die, how do the kids get help? What stops the attacks of the birds? Do the attacks grow worse and spread across the district, before help finally gets called in? Dad suspected the factory was to blame, but how is the connection made officially and what role does this play in stopping the bird attacks? And what happens to the man in charge of the chemical factory? All we are shown are the ruins of his creation and we are left to fill in the blanks. As with “The Changeling”, another example of an underdeveloped story that could have been great if it had been expanded into a standard length serial.

Worlds Apart (1981)

Sample images

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”.

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. 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!