Tag Archives: Mad scientists

The Black Widow [1978]

Sample Images

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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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Battle of the Wills (1977)

Sample Images

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Publication: 2/7/77-1/10/77

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown, but see “Thoughts”

 

Plot

Kate Wills is a selfish, unsavoury girl – but then, so is her grandmother, in the way she treats Kate. Grandmother keeps forcing Kate to follow in her footsteps and be a ballerina, but Kate wants to be a gymnast. The two are constantly at war over ballet vs. gymnastics. Grandmother just does not comprehend that Kate cannot realise her full potential as a top ballerina because having ballet constantly forced upon her has made her hate it. She believes (or deludes herself) that the gymnastics is just a passing craze and Kate will soon love ballet. She squelches every attempt Kate makes to pursue gymnastics, including cutting gymnastics articles out of newspapers and sacking servants who disobey her instructions (because Kate intimidated them) to keep Kate away from gymnastics. And what’s worse, grandmother always wins in the end.

 

Then, grandmother says she is going away on a year-long world trip to visit her old ballet haunts. Kate sees the advantages immediately, especially when told she will receive an allowance of £50 a week. She goes off to enrol at the gymnastics college under the name of Kate Holmes, and the allowance will cover her fees. Sounds too easy? It is – the family lawyer, Perkins, tells Kate that the allowance will stop if her ballet training does, and he is going to monitor her to make sure she keeps up her ballet. It looks like grandmother has won again.

 

Then Kate is reminded of an article she saw earlier about a Dr Morrison who claimed to have invented a machine that can duplicate living beings. It was dismissed as a hoax, but Kate seizes upon it as the means to be in two places at once, which would solve her problem. So she heads off to Morrison (a female scientist) and demands that a clone be made of her. Morrison agrees when Kate points out that a clone of a human being rather than animals would be far more convincing proof that her machine is genuine.

 

The cloning works – but too well. The clone believes she is the real Kate, and hates ballet and wants gymnastics as much as Kate does. Morrison says she cannot tell them apart and the machine to reverse the process will not be ready for months. In the meantime, she sorts the matter with a coin toss – the winner goes to the gymnastics college and changes her hairstyle to differentiate her from the loser, who is forced to go home and the hated ballet, under Perkins’ constant guard (something that threatens to turn him into a nervous wreck because Kate is such a handful). But she isn’t having that, so now the battle of ballet vs. gymnastics is being fought between the two Kates, with ballet Kate playing tricks on gymnast Kate to get the gymnastics she wants, while gymnast Kate fights her every inch of the way to hold on to them.

 

Further complications arise when gymnast Kate’s selfish nature makes her extremely unpopular at the college. Only one girl, Pauline, has tried to be friends at first, but Kate alienates her when she blackmails her way into taking Pauline’s place in a gymnastics display. It gets even more complicated when gymnast Kate finds out that Perkins is Pauline’s father, which creates hijinks in preventing him or Pauline from seeing the wrong Kate or even both of them when their paths meet over various gymnastics events where ballet Kate is always causing trouble for gymnast Kate. Added to that is a constant cloud hanging over gymnast Kate – is she really the clone, and if so, are her days as a gymnast numbered by how soon Morrison perfects the reversal machine?

 

Then gymnast Kate discovers Morrison has the reversal machine already, not months away as she said before. Morrison says it was just not ready to test on humans at the time and has a further bombshell – she tells gymnast Kate that she is the clone. This gives gymnast Kate such a shock that she goes into a state of catatonia and amnesia and wanders about in a daze. She ends up in hospital, but runs off when a news item about the Tynchurch gymnastics display she was meant to participate in jogs her memory just enough for her to go there. She arrives there still in her daze, but somehow able to perform.

 

Meanwhile, grandmother sends ballet Kate a new ballet instructor from Russia, Alicia, who takes the right approach with her. Instead of forcing Kate to dance, Alicia encourages her with praise and taking her to a ballet performance to inspire her. It works; ballet Kate is soon surprising herself at enjoying ballet for the first time in her life. She now feels quite happy to leave gymnast Kate to her own devices at the college.

 

But before ballet Kate changes her mind about ballet, she tries to pull one last trick on gymnast Kate at the Tynchurch display. However, she gets caught up with the doctors who are looking for gymnast Kate and then finds out about the state she is in. So she decides to help gymnast Kate instead.

 

Meanwhile, Pauline finally rumbles there are two Kates, and ballet Kate explains everything to her. But gymnast Kate has taken off in a daze once again, and ballet Kate finds out from Morrison what is wrong. Morrison also wants the two Kates to come to a science convention, where she will demonstrate her reversal machine in public by merging them back into one. Ballet Kate tracks down gymnast Kate and explains. They head off to the convention, with gymnast Kate now resigned to her fate. Pauline comes along and so does Alicia, who has been informed of the situation.

 

At the convention, there are protests on all sides that the experiment is cruel and inhuman and should be stopped immediately. This raises hopes that the clone will be spared. However, the scientists’ opposition has Morrison take matters into her own hands and turn the reversal machine straight on the Kates. However, it is ballet Kate who disappears, not gymnast Kate. This is because Morrison lied about which one was the clone to protect her work until she was ready to prove it to the convention. But the scientists are so horrified that they ban her duplicating machine and have her arrested. Morrison expresses no remorse; only anger that the scientists do not appreciate her genius.

 

Kate returns home, full of grief over her clone. However, the experiences she went through have turned her into a more considerate girl who has now realised how selfish she has been. So when Kate hears that the real reason her grandmother went away was to seek medical treatment in Russia for a serious heart condition, but her post-treatment prognosis is uncertain, she decides to give up her gymnastics and humour her still-infirm grandmother about pursuing ballet.

 

Alicia and Pauline feel the sacrifice Kate is making will be too much for her. So Alicia comes up with a plan. She persuades Kate to go for the national gymnastics championship she was training for, while, unknown to Kate, she puts grandmother in the audience – under protest. The hope is that once grandmother actually sees Kate’s gymnastics, she will come around. But grandmother has severe prejudices about the gymnastics she has never even watched properly as well as being opposed to Kate pursuing them, and her reaction to Kate performing is inscrutable.

 

By the end, it looks like the plan has failed and Kate has left in tears, without even checking the results of the competition. She thinks it is the end of her gymnastics and does not even know her grandmother was there until Alicia owns up. However, grandmother eventually proves she has come around, by not only in accepting the trophy Kate has won on her behalf but also in the acceptance speech she gives. She is proud to support Kate’s dream of going to the Olympics, and her prognosis is now good.

 

Thoughts

 

This story is one that crops up frequently in Jinty discussions and seems to have endured with readers. It certainly is a cut above your average story about the protagonist fighting difficult parents who keep pushing her in the direction they want and have no respect for what she wants, which drives her to go behind their backs all the time. Here the protagonist resorts to what could be the most unique solution to the problem in the history of girls’ comics – having a clone created so she can be in two places at the same time. But the solution brings its own problems that act as the obstacles the protagonist so often faces when going behind her parents’ backs to pursue her path: keeping the secret, hijinks when things go a bit wrong, thinking fast when faced with the threat of discovery, and jealous rivals who are so often thrown into the mix. And the difficulties facing gymnast Kate are all compounded by a constant, niggling thought that surely none of her counterparts in other comics have ever faced – which Kate is the real one and which is just the clone whose life will end when the reversal machine is ready? And when the truth is revealed, which will win out – ballet or gymnastics? Of course we are all rooting for the gymnastics, but what is grandmother going to say about it when she comes back? It will be back to square one for Kate – unless grandmother is persuaded to change her mind.

 

What further adds to the appeal of the story is that the protagonist herself starts out as an unlikeable character and not a fully sympathetic one. This is quite unusual for this type of story; usually a protagonist fighting a difficult parent to pursue her dreams is a sympathetic character, such as Glenda Noble in “The Goose Girl”. However, although we sympathise with Kate’s situation, we do not sympathise with her character. She is pushy, even bullying, selfish, and does not see beyond herself. She is not above blackmailing Pauline and does not care about the servants who get sacked because of the constant war between her and her grandmother. So there is far more character development in this story; we know that Kate will change somehow, and we all the more interested in following her story to find out just how she will change and where it will lead in the battle over ballet vs. gymnastics.

 

It is not too much of a surprise that it is shock treatment that turns Kate around, though more extreme because she is threatened with a (false) near-death experience as well. It could hardly be anything else. What is a surprise is that what turns the clone around is the very last thing she expected – beginning to like ballet. And it is all because her new ballet teacher goes about things the right way – being likeable, encouraging and inspiring to induce Kate to pursue ballet out of her own interest – not forcing ballet upon Kate as grandmother does because it is what she wants, and not listening to what Kate wants. It is a rare lesson that any difficult parent/teacher learns in girls’ comics – learning to go about things the right way instead of the wrong way of forcing things upon people. If ballet Kate had been the real Kate after all, the story could have ended in quite an unconventional manner for this type of genre – the protagonist now doing what the parent wants because it is now what she wants instead of gaining the freedom to pursue what she wants.

 

This story is also pretty unconventional for Jinty in another manner. Although Jinty was known for her SF stories, the mad/eccentric scientist was one SF theme that seldom featured. But in this case it does, and what’s more, Dr Morrison is not your average mad scientist. Most mad scientists in girls’ comics are out for world domination or whatever. They often a dash of campiness about them and behave like maniacs. But this doctor is a completely cold fish, and what makes her even more chilling is that her true colours are not apparent at first. When we first meet Morrison, she seems a sympathetic character. She has been wronged because the science establishment rejected her machine as a hoax, lives in a dingy residence, and when the two Kates are created, she seems to be in a real dilemma. At one point she even comes to the rescue of gymnast Kate in fooling Perkins. But once her lies begin to unravel, her cold, ruthless nature begins to appear. Ballet Kate realises how heartless Morrison really is and that neither of them are much real to her; she just sees them as an “interesting experiment”. And the climax of the story, where Morrison wipes ballet Kate from existence without a flicker of remorse, just to prove herself to the convention, despite all their protests, has to be one of the most ruthless and cold-blooded scenes ever depicted in girls’ comics. This must have been a moment where the Jinty team really wanted to kick some butt; none of the clichéd last minute saves, as was what the Kates hoped for when the scientists protested that the experiment be stopped.

 

Jinty was also known for her sports stories, and “Battle of the Wills” was the first Jinty story to feature gymnastics. The other Jinty stories that did were “Land of No Tears”, “Wild Rose” and “Prisoner of the Bell”. Unfortunately, the gymnastics in all these stories were marred by one glaring error – having girls perform gymnastics on parallel bars, rings and Pommel horse. This is incorrect because they are used in men’s gymnastics. Some more accurate research into gymnastics could have been done there.

 

“Battle of the Wills” shares roots with several other stories that have me wondering that if at least some of them had the same writer. Kate’s ambitious but selfish nature that softens into a more considerate one sounds similar to how another selfish Jinty girl, Pandora, develops in “Pandora’s Box”. In “Prisoner of the Bell” Susie Cathcart also wants to pursue gymnastics, but her grandmother keeps forcing her to be an academic (and Susie is a confirmed underachiever) and thinks gymnastics are nonsense, just as Kate’s grandmother does. In this case, the grandmother uses hypnotism to compel her. The same goes for Alison Thorne in Tammy’s “Slave of the Clock” in 1982. Alison is another talented but reluctant ballerina. Unlike Kate, Alison does not hate ballet; she is just not passionate enough to make it her career. Then Alison meets a ballet teacher who goes about things the wrong way in the extreme – she hypnotises reluctant ballet students into doing ballet whenever they hear the ticking of a clock. The last was written by Jay Over, a known Jinty writer. It raises the possibility that Over wrote “Battle of the Wills” and “Prisoner of the Bell” because of various similarities they have with “Slave of the Clock”.

 

When comparing “Battle of the Wills” to “Prisoner of the Bell” or “Slave of the Clock”, it emerges as more superior in terms of character development. Once Alison and Susie are freed from the hypnotism they pretty much go back to what they were, as if nothing had happened. But Kate has grown, and become more considerate and mature. And if ballet Kate had indeed been the original, she would have really surprised herself. “Battle of the Wills” is also more superior in terms of lessons learned. The other two show what can happen when you go about things the wrong way and try to force them on other people. Seldom do you get the lesson about the results you can get when you go about things the right way. But this is what happens when Alicia appears in the place of the grandmother. Kate sees how different Alicia is and responds accordingly. However, there is no Alicia for Susie (to help her appreciate education more) or Alison (to encourage her to pursue her ballet talent to the full).

Edited to add: I have produced and added in a WTFometer. This story scores quite highly at 33.

Battle of the Wills WTFometer

Girl in a Bubble (1976)

Sample Images

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Bubble 1

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Bubble 2

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Bubble 3

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Bubble 4

Publication: 18 September 1976-11 December 1976

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Four years ago Helen Ryan was diagnosed as having no resistance to germs. Since then, she has lived in a plastic bubble at Blackheath House under the care of Miss Vaal. Miss Vaal is always making notes in her black book and Helen wonders what is in that book. In all those four years, Helen’s parents have never visited, nor has Helen had any company except Miss Vaal and the nursing staff. Painting is one of the few things Helen is allowed to do, but Miss Vaal never shows Helen’s pictures to anyone either.

Helen feels fine now and longs to come out of the bubble or at least have some company. Miss Vaal brings in a group of girls to visit Helen, but they just tease and torment her. Unbeknown to Helen, Miss Vaal paid them to do so in the hope that Helen will become too frightened to seek company anymore. However, one of the girls, Linda Siggs, regrets what she did and sneaks back to Helen. She thinks it is daft for Helen to live in a bubble and encourages Helen to come out.

When Helen emerges, she does not die immediately from germs as Miss Vaal said. There are no ill effects at all. Helen comes to Linda’s school, where she paints a picture, “The Bubble People” (her imaginary friends while she was in the bubble). The teacher, Miss Williams, is struck by how talented Helen is and invites Helen to an after-school art class. Helen accepts with alacrity. Helen then goes back to the bubble and asks Linda to let her out again the next day.

However, Helen has not noticed there is a flower stuck in her hair, which alerts Miss Vaal to what she has done. She punishes Helen by enclosing her in darkness for two days without food. This punishment is meant to break Helen’s spirit and discourage her from wanting to leave the bubble again. And Linda’s bid to release Helen again comes unstuck when she is waylaid by the police. So Helen lets herself out, something she never had the nerve to do, and goes off to her art class. Helen is alarmed when she finds Miss Williams has a cold, and she believes she has no germ resistance. This has the other girls teasing her, including a jealous girl called Nina, and Helen runs off. She bumps into Linda, who has been released by the police. Linda, who does not believe there is anything wrong with Helen, persuades her not to go back to the bubble. When Miss Vaal finds out Helen has gone, she says there will be terrible consequences, and will deal with Helen harshly.

Helen goes back to Miss Williams, but the other girls still cause trouble. When Helen leaves, she is caught by the police, whom Miss Vaal called in. Miss Williams tries to rescue Helen, but the head, prompted by nasty Nina, tells the police to take Helen. However, Helen escapes the police with Linda’s help.

They sneak to Blackheath House to get hold of the black book to find out why Miss Vaal keeps Helen in the bubble. In Miss Vaal’s office, Helen is shocked to discover Miss Vaal had been spying on her in the bubble via a two way mirror. They find the book, which reveals that Helen’s immune system recovered three years back (the doctor must have misdiagnosed Helen and she in fact only had weakened resistance). The reason Miss Vaal has kept Helen in the bubble since then was to compile evidence for a report on how being cut off from the outside world affects a human. They realise Miss Vaal is insane and quickly leave, taking the book with them as evidence. Then Miss Vaal catches Linda, and Helen volunteers to return so Miss Vaal will release Linda. Linda goes back to tell Miss Williams what is going on. Miss Williams makes arrangements with Miss Vaal to go and see Helen. But Miss Vaal injects Helen with a drug to make her pretend she is happy with Miss Vaal. Miss Williams is fooled.

When Helen recovers from the drug, she escapes from the bubble with the aid of the black book – and for once it is Miss Vaal who is shut in the bubble! But Helen had to leave the black book behind in the bubble. And Miss Vaal warns her that she will come crawling back to the bubble because there is nothing else for her. Hmm, now what can Miss Vaal mean by that?

However, Helen finds Miss Williams and this time she succeeds in convincing her. Miss Williams persuades Helen to go and see her parents about the matter, and Linda comes too. Helen also finds a book has been written that is based on her Bubble People picture; it just needs her parents’ signature to say it is unaided.

Once they arrive, Linda takes off, feeling she is no longer needed – big mistake, as it turns out Helen still needs help. Unknown to Helen, there is another girl at her parents’ house who looks like her and is called Helen too.

Helen sees her father and tries to tell him she has recovered. But he treats her like a stranger and slams the door in her face. Then she sees the other Helen and realises her parents got another girl (a foster girl) to take her place. Helen then recalls what Miss Vaal said when she escaped, and wonders if this is what she meant. Meanwhile, Dad phones Miss Vaal; he did not believe Helen’s claims that she has recovered and is angry at Miss Vaal for the escape. We learn that Mrs Ryan had a bad breakdown following Helen’s incarceration. The foster-Helen is meant to keep Mrs Ryan happy and Dad does not want the real Helen to spoil things.

The police get back on Helen’s tail, and then she is spotted by her mother and foster-Helen. Mrs Ryan recognises Helen and embraces her. Helen tells her mother she has recovered, but the police say that Helen is an escaped patient who has imagined it all. Then Dad catches up and has Helen returned to the bubble. Helen finds that Miss Vaal has put in extra security, including a lock on the bubble door, to stop her escaping again.

Meanwhile, Mrs Ryan confronts her husband about what he has done. He justifies his actions as a clean break his wife needed because of her breakdown. Mrs Ryan does not look impressed. Moreover, she and foster-Helen are more inclined to believe Helen’s claims of recovery, but Mr Ryan does not listen. Then Miss Williams turns up over Helen’s book and her failed appointment with the publisher. When she hears what happened, she tells Mr Ryan that she is surprised at his attitude. She then tells them that Miss Vaal is insane and means to keep Helen imprisoned. She points out that Helen has been out of the bubble with no ill effects, which does support her claims of recovery. She also challenges Mr Ryan if he finds it more convenient to forget about Helen. This gets through to Mr Ryan and they all race off to Blackheath House to rescue Helen.

At Blackheath House, Helen tries to scare Miss Vaal into releasing her, but it backfires. Instead, Miss Vaal turns off the air supply to suffocate Helen in the bubble. The bubble collapses, but Helen escapes with the aid of a knife she used for sharpening pencils. Miss Vaal finds Helen has escaped and is in the middle of angrily assaulting her when the family arrive and catch her in the act. Miss Vaal is arrested, and Mr Ryan apologises to his daughter. They are now a reunited family and Helen has a sister as well (also named Helen – well, they will have to sort that one out). Helen catches up with Linda and asks her to come on holiday with them. Helen’s book is published and is making her famous.

Thoughts

“Girl in a Bubble” is no doubt one of Jinty’s most insidious, disturbing and frightening stories. It is all the more frightening because we know it is based on real life. In the days before bone marrow transplants, people with no resistance to germs really were encased in sterile plastic bubbles like this. The most famous case was David Vetter, “The Bubble Boy”, who had been confined to a plastic bubble since birth. The emotional and psychological effects on him were painted in a far rosier light in the media than they actually were. David eventually died because a bone marrow transplant had not been screened properly.

The blurb says that this story is eerie, and the moment we see Helen in the plastic bubble, we know immediately that the story will deliver on that. We have seen girls imprisoned in dungeons, prison cells, workhouses etc often enough – but plastic bubbles? That is not something you see every day except in science fiction films or medical programmes. It is no wonder that the girls who see Helen in the bubble find it weird and freaky. Those plastic gloves attached to the bubble that are used to deliver things to Helen – ugh, that really creeps you out! And then, when Helen discovers the two-way mirror which enables Miss Vaal to spy on her from her office, that really makes your skin crawl.

Even where real life bubble people were loved, they would suffer psychologically as a result of their isolation. So we can imagine the effects on Helen, who is being kept in deliberately isolated conditions and then inflicted with harsh treatment to keep her under control once she demands freedom. Her only friends are the imaginary Bubble People (who are sadly underdeveloped and only seen once, in Helen’s painting). Once Helen escapes from the bubble, we can see the effects the isolation has had on her. For example, she cannot paint a picture while the other girls are crowding around because she is so used to doing it alone. She does not have the tools to stand up to the girls who tease her either, and she bursts into tears. On the other hand, her confidence begins to grow as well. She could have left the bubble at any time but was too scared too. Then, after she is encouraged to do so once, desperation is strong enough for her to find the courage to release herself. It is also fortunate that there must have been some lapses in Miss Vaal’s vigil; she failed to spot Helen escaping on either occasion, despite the two-way mirror. Maybe she was too busy poring over her black book to notice?

Once we find out why the parents have not visited Helen in four years, we are deeply shocked at Mr Ryan’s conduct. He virtually abandoned Helen to her fate in order to spare his wife’s feelings? All right, so he would not want his wife to have another breakdown. And he probably did feel guilty about Helen – after all, it was Miss Williams’ sting at his conscience that finally galvanised him into action. Besides, we would not put it past Miss Vaal to pull a few dirty tricks to stop the Ryan parents visiting. Even so, his irresponsible, neglectful conduct is appalling. Moreover, he virtually threw Helen right back into the bubble – was it because he was really concerned about her life or was it to protect the cosy shell he had built around his wife? Or was he feeling embarrassed over his guilty conscience? Whatever he was thinking, he unwittingly condemned Helen to near-death when Miss Vaal tries to kill her.

Bubble 5

(click thru)

The scenes (above) where Helen struggles to breathe and escape the plastic walls which are now collapsing in on her are truly terrifying. Everyone knows that plastic can suffocate you, and Helen finds the very experience of the plastic clinging to her horrible. Fortunately, another lapse in Miss Vaal’s vigilance – not removing the sharpening knife – came to the rescue. But the true rescue must go to Linda and Miss Williams, the only two people to show real common sense and perspective in this entire story. Linda showed it most of all when she said the bubble was daft and Helen did not need it – but little did she know how right she was there, or in encouraging Helen to come out of the bubble.