Published: Misty 4 August 1979 to 24 November 1979
Artist: Mario Capaldi
Translations/reprints: De winnaar verliest [The Winner Loses] Anita (weekly comic, 1983)
Sandy Morton’s father is the despair of her. Once he had been an equestrian champion, including an Olympic champion. But he has never been the same since his wife died in a crash five years back because he keeps irrationally blaming himself for her death. As a result he has sunk into chronic alcoholism. He is now on the verge of being fired from his stable hand’s job at Hornby Riding School for being constantly drunk. This would also get them turned out of the house (even if it isn’t much of one) that goes with his job.
Sandy is desperate to find a way to stop Dad drinking and restore him to his old self. She also has dreams of following in his footsteps and become an equestrian champion, but that looks hopeless now because of the downward spiral her father has fallen into. The snobby rich girl Jocasta Forsyth-Major at the riding school really loves to rub her nose in that, and that Sandy can’t be part of the Worthing Cup competition the school is training for.
When Sandy finds the old sign of the now-ruined Black Horse Inn with the black horse on it, she wishes aloud the horse was real and she could have one like him.
Bookie Mr Dayville from the betting shop has overheard her. Dayville says he can give her everything her heart desires: her father restored to what he was, a decent home, the Worthing Cup, a horse of her own, become an equestrian champion. There is just one small price to pay for it all – Sandy’s soul!
Oh no, it’s no joke, dear Sandy. Moments later, Dayville is proving his true identity as the Devil himself. Sandy will come to suspect Dayville uses his position at the betting shop to tempt more people into his pacts, and she will wonder just how normal the village really is with all these secret Devil pacts that must be going on. As the story progresses, she will find out more about just how right she is.
In due course Dayville says almost everyone ends up in Hell anyway, so why not get some benefits out of it? He also reveals that the population of Hell is divided into two categories. The first are people who were truly evil in life and so are blessed with demonic form in Hell and the Devil treats them like pampered pets. The second are good, noble souls like Sandy who just make up the numbers and the Devil probably treats them like second class citizens. Gee, what does it take to get to Heaven then? But the story never goes into religion, the Bible or Jesus Christ.
Right now Sandy won’t have any dealings with the Devil, but he isn’t taking “no” for an answer. He’s going to tempt her with a free trial. So when Sandy arrives home she finds her father transformed to his old self, Dayville offering to sell him a black stallion (named Satan, of course) for Sandy, and the black horse has vanished from the inn sign. But next morning it’s all back to normal, with Sandy’s drunken father lying on the floor. Sandy has to hide him behind the sofa before Mrs Hornby sees him drunk again and gives him the sack.
Temptation is not the only weapon in Dayville’s armoury. He turns the screw with emotional blackmail, telling Sandy how the booze is going to slowly kill Dad until he dies, and she could have saved him. Finally, when Jocasta threatens to tell on Mr Morton for drunkenness, Sandy panics so much that she caves in and accepts Dayville’s bargain. All signed with her own blood in the Devil’s book of contracts, of course.
So now Dad is transformed, no longer drinking and eager to turn their lives around, and Mrs Hornby is impressed. But with the Devil being behind it, there has to be a sting in the tail. Sure enough, we see it when we learn that the transformed Dad still blames himself for his wife’s death, which was the real root of his alcoholism.
The deal also includes an upcoming Olympic gold for Sandy and the black horse on the inn sign come to life (though as a living painting, not a real flesh-and-blood horse) for her to ride under the name of Satan. Dayville will claim her soul after she wins her Olympic gold – which will be in one year’s time at the 1980 Games! It also means Sandy and Satan have to be up to Olympic standard in a year, and they are still only novices.
There are some surprises. For example, Jocasta tries to spite Sandy by having her father buy Hornby Riding School, with the dismissal of Mr Morton as part of the deal. But Jocasta’s father also has a pact with Dayville (so that’s why Jocasta’s family is so rich!), so it’s an easy matter for him to persuade Forsyth-Major to withdraw his offer.
Though alive, Satan is not a real horse, and his fate is still bound to the old inn sign. So when the sign gets run over and snapped, Dad sees Satan’s legs break. Sandy finds the damaged sign and holding it together makes Satan whole again. The vet is bemused at this and rumours start that Dad imagined the broken legs out of drunkenness. When Dayville hears, he threatens to kill Satan to prevent discovery of Satan’s secret. To save Satan, Sandy is forced into another bargain with Dayville: if anyone finds out the truth about Satan, Dayville will claim Sandy’s soul instantly.
This almost happens when Dad and the vet take Satan to run secret tests because Dad wants vindication from the rumour that the booze made him imagine those broken legs. Sandy manages to stop them, but Dad gets the wrong impression that Sandy does not care about him (what a cruel irony!) and is deeply hurt. Dayville is ecstatic because he feeds on such negative emotions and misery.
By now Sandy realises that it’s going to be nothing but torment, torment, torment all the way from Dayville from now on, long before she reaches Hell. And she soon finds out she is not the only one he means to torment.
Cheating just has to be part of the Devil’s design to make her an equestrian champion: he’s got all his demons nobbling the competition by scaring and tormenting their horses, and she is the only one who can see them. Well, he never specified how he was going to make you a champion when he drew up the contract, did he, Sandy? As a result of this, Sandy wins the Worthing Cup by default and gets no joy out of winning it. Dayville also pulls the strings on another contracted person, Sir Geoffrey Ricketts, to get Sandy entered in an international event.
The vet takes the sign away for cleaning, which causes Satan’s legs to break again when the weak piece comes off. Sandy has to run the gauntlet with the demons, who don’t want her to get the sign back before the vet gets too close to Satan and find out his secret. Surprisingly, Dayville lends a hand by mending the sign, so Satan gallops away “from a very perplexed vet” and virtually apologises for his demons, saying they got a bit over-enthusiastic. However, the vet is still suspicious of Satan and the sign, and arranges for a test to be done on Satan when he performs at Ricketts’ show.
At the Ricketts show Dayville has the demons get up to their usual tricks to spook the competition out of Sandy’s running. Sandy tries to plead with Dayville to stop this, but it’s no use; after all, he is the Devil. And there is a bonus that has Dayville laughing even more – Dad has overheard them!
Soon Dad is informed about Sandy’s pact with the Devil (but not the reason for it) and shown the demons that are tormenting the horses. Thinking Sandy did it for her own Olympic ambitions, he is outraged and says she’s no daughter of his. Sandy nobly chooses the estrangement with Dad over having him know the real reason for the pact and blame himself. However, Dad works it out for himself when he goes for a drink but finds something is stopping him getting a single drop of alcohol past his lips.
Once Dad realises the full truth, he does something that takes even Dayville by surprise: he offers to let Dayville take his soul instead of Sandy’s. As Dad is willing to give up his soul immediately, Dayville considers it a better deal and happily accepts. As part of the deal, Dayville makes Satan a real horse – which puts paid to the test the vet arranged for him, and in the nick of time – and Sandy his legal owner. Moments later, Dad suddenly dies of a heart attack.
Sandy braves her grief in order to go into a spectacular and clear round (while bowling Dayville clean over!). Jocasta is so impressed with Sandy’s courage that she repents her unsavoury attitude towards her. The demons have stopped interfering with the other horses, so Sandy wins fair and square. She changes Satan’s name to “Phoenix” as she quite understandably can’t stand his old name. At Dad’s grave, Sandy vows that she and Phoenix will win the gold at the 1980 Olympics in his memory.
This story is regarded as Misty’s jewel in the crown and one of the best-ever serials in the history of girls’ comics. It deserves such recognition, for it is bold enough to use the Devil himself as the heavy and pushes the boundaries like no other serial ever has in terms of scares, torture, misery and courage, not to mention Satanism and demons that would scare the living daylights out of kids. It doesn’t even end happily although Sandy was saved from Hell. Even by Misty standards it’s extremely strong stuff. It’s a wonder this story didn’t have parents up in arms in Parliament, especially ones who were Christian fundamentalists.
Sandy Morton must be the most tortured heroine in the history of girls’ comics. Even before Dayville gets to work on her, she’s in the pits of misery with her alcoholic father dragging her down into a despairing downward spiral along with him. She sees no future at all, much less any hope of becoming an equestrian champion like the Dad she used to know.
The story then takes the “wish fulfilment with strings attached” route, with the Devil himself offering to grant Sandy’s wishes in exchange for his usual fee. But you can’t expect the wishes to bring happiness when the Devil is granting them. And that is precisely the Devil’s design, as Sandy soon discovers. While granting her wishes, he uses them as a means to torture her emotionally and psychologically every step of the way to The Pit. He uses loopholes in the contract to torment her even further. For example, his idea of making Sandy an equestrian champion is to cheat her through to victory by using his demons to nobble the competition by scaring and torturing their horses. He makes her watch in horror as his demons torment the horses. He knows she does not want to win this way and will not enjoy it when she does win. That’s the whole idea, and he’s loving every minute of it!
The difficulties in keeping her secrets from her father adds to the torment and the Devil’s delight when it causes misunderstandings with her father and they become estranged. Even Satan, Sandy’s only comfort and friend against all her misery, is being used to add to the torment when Dayville forces her into the clause that he can claim her soul instantly if anyone finds out the truth about him.
Even when Sandy’s soul is saved from Dayville he still torments her. As she looks down at her father’s grave, she knows he is now down in Hell in her place, swelling the ranks of noble souls who are just there to make up the numbers. And on top of everything else, she’s now an orphan, and only has Phoenix to accompany her in the world. All she has left to live for is win the Olympic gold in her father’s memory.
The depiction of the Devil in human form as Dayville is brilliant. It makes a change from the usual horn-headed, goat-footed figure with the red cape and trident (except when he gives Sandy glimpses of his real form). His position as bookie is a most crafty and insidious way to tempt people. Maybe Misty is making a statement about the evils of gambling? It is also quite funny to think of the Devil having a day job in the human world.
There are also dashes of humour about Dayville that make him oddly endearing at times. For example, when Sandy turns him down initially he says he’ll give her a free trial, for he has to move with the times. (Nice to know the Devil isn’t a stick in the mud!) When Sandy signs Dayville’s book of contracts he says he is so pleased she is able to sign her own name instead of making thumbprints as people used to do in more illiterate times, and he appreciates the value of education. And while Dayville is always finding ways to use his contract to torment Sandy, he never actually lies to her or goes back on his word. He always remains within the boundaries of honesty. Yes, the Devil isn’t called cunning for nothing, is he?
Dayville’s comment about the two divisions of souls in Hell is disturbing. If the idea of Hell is to punish wrongdoing, what are noble souls doing there? He never says why or how they ended up there. Did they foolishly enter contracts with the Devil too, or was it for something they failed to do – like not believing in Christ, maybe? Yikes, that’s beginning to sound like something out of a Jack Chick tract. But as stated above, the story never even mentions Christianity, much less reveal what role it could play against the Devil’s contract with Sandy. There isn’t a priest, Bible or prayer in sight.