Tag Archives: invasion

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 1). 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 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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Creepy Crawley (1977)

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Published: 9 April 1977 – 2 July 1977

Episodes: 13

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Translations/ reprints: Katy 8–9; In de macht/ban van een broche [Under the Spell of a Brooch], Tina 1979 and Tina Topstrip 60 1984. Indonesian translation Dalam Cengkeraman Sebuah Bros [In the clutches of a brooch]

Plot

Jean Crawley is the star pupil of St Bridget’s. She always wins at everything and is very proud that nobody has ever beaten her. Then Jean meets her match in Mandy Collier, the team captain of the rival team at a hockey match, and is stunned to lose for the first time in her life. Then Mandy – horrors! – transfers to Jean’s school. So now Jean under serious threat from the girl who always seems to beat her, and she is not taking it well.

Then Jean stumbles across an antique shop and is drawn to an Egyptian scarab brooch. The owner tells her it belonged to an Egyptian princess named Neferitta, who lost her throne to a rival but used the power of the scarab to recover it. Jean disappears out of the shop with the brooch before she receives the book that accompanies it – or the owner’s warning that the brooch changed the princess’s personality for the worse while helping her regain her throne.

The brooch begins to push back Jean’s rival at school, but there are warning signs that it is dangerous and evil. For example, mysterious swarms of insects start hanging around Jean. Jean asks the scarab to help her against Mandy when Mandy starts to suspect her of underhandedness, whereupon bees attack Mandy and leave her badly stung while Jean is unharmed while going to the rescue. Jean’s misgivings – and guilty conscience – grow worse when she goes back to the shop to get the book about the brooch. Unfortunately most of the pages are tantalisingly missing. What remains warns that the power of the scarab gives its wearer power over all insects, which Neferitta used to defeat her rival. But the scarab also brought a curse to the land and not even the defeat of the rival stopped it. Terrified, Jean stops wearing the brooch.

However, when Jean is reminded of the threat Mandy poses to her, her jealousy resurfaces and she goes back to using the brooch. And after Jean saves Mandy from the bees, Mandy is fooled into thinking Jean is her friend, which makes it easier to work against her. Mandy is even more fooled when Jean is the only one who seems to be friendly to her when the other prefects send her to Coventry because they think Mr Collier bribed the headmistress with a grant to make Mandy a prefect. Which is precisely what Jean led them to think, of course.

Mysterious help from insects keeps cropping up to destroy Mandy whenever she threatens to score one over Jean. Termites destroy her wooden sculpture in an art competition, so Jean wins. Gnats attack Mandy while the class is on a pony trekking weekend.

However the latter backfires on Jean when it unwittingly puts Sheila in danger. Jean has to move fast to save her. Jean has a pang of conscience, telling the scarab it has changed her for the worse and now nearly killed Sheila, and wishing she’d never summoned its powers. Jean does not realise Sheila overheard what she was saying – and believes it.

But the power of the scarab is getting too strong for any twinge of conscience, as both Jean and Sheila discover when Sheila tries to hide the brooch. Another swarm of insects mysteriously appears and Jean finds herself compelled to open the window for them and they direct her to the brooch’s hiding place. Jean realises someone is on to her, but does not know who.

The pony trekking turned into a fiasco because of the insects, and the girls blame Mandy for it. As a result Mandy loses her prefect’s badge while still thinking Jean is her friend. The rival is being defeated, but now Jean suspects the scarab will not stop there.

Jean discovers it was Sheila who had rumbled her. After another incident with the scarab Jean decides she cannot destroy the brooch without destroying herself. So she now plots to get Mandy expelled in the hope this will break its power (obviously, she did not remember what the book said about nobody being safe from the scarab even after the defeat of the rival). And she scares and tricks timid Sheila into helping her do it, with blackmail. Jean’s plan is to wreck the costumes for the play and frame Mandy for it, with Sheila’s unsuspecting help.

Sheila caves in, wishing she had the confidence to stand up to Jean. Then she finds Jean’s incomplete book on the scarab brooch and recalls another copy somewhere. Next day, Jean’s plan succeeds in getting Mandy suspended. Worse, Jean engineered her plan so cleverly that Mandy thinks it was Sheila who framed her, and was behind all the trouble she has had. Too late Sheila realised what Jean’s plan was, but of course nobody, including Mandy, believes her when she tries to explain about the scarab.

However, Jean soon finds out she has miscalculated. Even with Mandy gone, she cannot break free of the scarab. Its power over her is getting stronger as it makes her ever more evil and turning her into a tyrant (like it had done with Neferitta, as it turns out). Jean is forcing all pupils to wear blazers at all times, even when the weather is boiling hot. When one pupil swats a fly Jean assaults her, because all insects are sacred to the scarab. Everyone, including the headmistress, now have second thoughts about Jean because of her strange conduct.

Sheila, now having read the other copy of the book, which was in her father’s library, knows Jean is going the same way as Neferitta after she deposed her rival, and every evil action she makes is strengthening the power of the scarab. But the worst is yet to come: the scarab has designs of power and conquest. It had Neferitta lead an invasion of insects, which means it intends to do the same with Jean. Sure enough, the scarab has Jean go to the insect house at the zoo to let all the insects loose for the invasion.

The scarab’s power over Neferitta was broken by her rival forgiving her, which means Mandy must do the same with Jean. But how can Mandy even forgive Jean when she does not even realise what Jean has done and thinks Sheila is responsible for her expulsion? Sheila goes to Mandy’s house to try to explain, but Mandy still does not listen. All Sheila can do is leave the book with her and hope. Eventually Mandy reads it, but she is not convinced.

Meanwhile Mandy’s parents have gone to a garden party at school to speak to the headmistress about getting Mandy reinstated, but are not successful (yet). Then the insect invasion strikes the school, and it’s got real nasties in it. There are locusts that make short work of the school garden and drive everyone into the school building, and bees and wasps that keep them trapped there, with Jean laughing at them. They all realise Jean is in the power of the evil scarab brooch.

Realising her parents are overdue, Mandy goes to the school to check things out. She sees the insect invasion and is finally convinced. She gets past the insects by way of an old air raid tunnel. When Mandy confronts Jean, Jean brags how she got rid of her. This clears Mandy’s name, but it does not make her conducive towards forgiveness. However, she does so when Mrs Crawley points out that the scarab brooch was responsible for Jean’s conduct.

Mandy’s forgiveness frees Jean, but it is only for the time being. Jean has been so weakened by the scarab that it could possess her again, and the insect invasion is still out there. The only way to stop the scarab altogether is to put it in a pyramid.

Fortunately Sheila checked out for a pyramid, and there is a pyramid-shaped summerhouse in the neighbourhood that was built by a Victorian eccentric. So Sheila, Jean and Mandy race to get to the pyramid, but find the insects have blocked the air raid tunnel. Jean uses the power of the brooch to command the insects to step aside.

As the pyramid comes into sight, Jean has grown so weak that she faints, and Mandy hurts her ankle. So it’s up to Sheila to bravely make the last lap of the journey while running the gauntlet with the insects. With the aid of a lucky accident, Sheila gets the scarab into the pyramid and its power is broken. The insects disperse and Sheila crushes the scarab underfoot to make sure nobody uses it again.

The school takes the view the scarab was responsible for everything, so no action is taken against Jean. However, Jean voluntarily steps down from her position as head girl – and announces that Sheila is her replacement. Sheila is surprised at this because she sees herself as a coward and timid person. Jean and Mandy say she is far more courageous than she thinks, and she proved it with her heroic deed.

Thoughts

Evil objects that take possession of girls and force them to do terrible things have a long tradition in girls’ comics. But this evil object has a far bigger agenda than simply making the protagonist its slave and forcing her to act nasty, or to enact revenge as some evil objects do, such as in “Slave of the Mirror”. This evil object is out for world conquest, and it is doing it by controlling all insects. When you think about it, that’s a really scary thought; there are millions more insects on the planet than there are people, and there are thousands of species of insects that can do untold damage to humans, from disease-spreading mosquitos and fleas to stinging bees and wasps. During the story we see the damage that even small groups of insects can do, such as Mandy’s wood carving being devoured by termites. If that is what the scarab could do with insects in small numbers, what could it do if it grows strong enough to control all the insects on the planet?

The scarab clearly could not do it unless the person who fell into its power had negative feelings that could be fed upon, nurtured, twisted, and intensified to turn that person into an evil personality who could be controlled while believing the scarab was helping her (or him) to get whatever she wanted, crush the person she hated, and raise her to power beyond imagining. It is unlikely that the scarab could have possessed either Jean or Neferitta if they had lost gracefully to their rivals. They needed to have feelings of hatred, anger and jealousy to begin with if the scarab was able to take control of them at all. As we watch how Jean’s personality worsens under the power we have to wonder if what the scarab is really doing is bringing to the surface what had always lurked there.

If the scarab was sentient (and perhaps it is) we see how extremely crafty it is in ensnaring Jean and gradually entrapping her as its slave. Jean surprises herself at how brilliant her schemes in defeating Mandy are getting and puts it down to the brooch. She thinks it is doing her tremendous favour. Even when Jean has surges of conscience or terror at the power of the scarab, it does not take much for them to be overcome. Jean senses the power of the scarab is growing, but at this stage it is getting too strong for her, and it is corrupting her with temptations of power. She does not realise that the scarab is just using her as a tool and playing upon her jealousy and increasing corruption to feed its strength and carry out its own agenda. One suspects that the scarab’s power would reach the stage where it would not even need Jean anymore.

Jean’s dominance over Sheila is not unlike how Stacey dominates Tania in The Slave of Form 3B. There is no mind control (though the scarab displays some powers of hypnotism, such as making the zoo keeper forget Jean’s break-in at the insect house), but it is still the power of an intimidating personality over a weaker one. Much of it stems from Sheila’s timidity and lack of self-confidence. She looks upon herself as a coward and has no backbone. Even after her heroism she still looks upon herself as a coward. It takes pep talk from Mandy and Jean afterwards to make her see the light. Sheila replacing Jean as head girl is akin to Tania replacing Stacey in the same position at the end of Slave of Form 3B, except that unlike Tania, Sheila has actually earned it. And it’s not just because of her heroism in getting the scarab to the pyramid. Though timid like Tania, she is more proactive than Tania and she is the one who is crucial to the resolution of the story by tracking down the full history of the brooch and (eventually) informing the others what they need to know. Though she knows Mandy will most likely slam the door in her face she bravely tries to talk to Mandy about the brooch and failing that, leaves the book with her.

The artwork of Trini Tinturé is always popular in Jinty, and it does a brilliant job in illustrating the evil that is growing in Jean as the brooch increasingly corrupts her. Tinturé has a long tradition of drawing evil flint-eyed brunettes in Jinty who have insanity or evil exuding from their very eyes and facial expressions, and this one is no exception. Tinturé would have done an amazing job of drawing the corrupted Princess Neferitta herself if she had been allowed some flashbacks instead of being just briefly discussed in the book. One does feel that there is an untold story in the case of Neferitta and it could make quite a story to see the story of the scarab-enslaved Neferitta and her rival told in full. Prequel, anyone?