Tag Archives: Mystery story

A Girl Called Midnight [1980]

Sample Images

Midnight 1Midnight 2Midnight 3

Published: Tammy 16 February 1980 – 29 March 1980

Episodes: 7

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #30 (final issue); Tina Topstrip #14  as Het meisje Middernacht

Plot

Melissa and Martin Bright and their parents decide to become a foster family. The foster girl they are to adopt is named Midnight Meredith. The name “Midnight” has the kids pondering as to whether it might be a portent for something creepy. It turns out they are not far wrong.

No, Midnight is not a witch, and she has no supernatural powers. But there is something weird about her that she herself cannot understand. These are Midnight’s “moods” i.e. inexplicable trance-like states where she wanders off, not knowing what she is doing. She appears to be looking for something, but she does not know what, but she always babbles about the search in terms of “we” – not “I” – who are doing the search. Triggers for these moods include the moon ring (a gift from her mother) that she always wears, looking at her own reflection, hearing the sound of her own voice on playback, or sleepwalking. These moods are not only problematic but also dangerous at times. Melissa worries that Midnight might wander into heavy traffic or a railway line because she does not know what she is doing when she is in a “mood”. During one mood, things get even more dangerous. Midnight tries to force the family car down a road towards a place called Steepling Parva, yelling to Mr Bright that he’s going the wrong way. This sends the car crashing into a hedge! Fortunately everyone emerges with little more than cuts and bruises.

These moods are the reason why Midnight never lasts long in any foster home. Midnight had expected the Brights to be no different, and she does want to stay with them. Not surprisingly, her behaviour is a bit difficult at times, even when she is not in a “mood”, and she finds it hard to settle and ease up.

Fortunately for Midnight, the Brights are a more understanding foster family. A doctor has told them there could be a medical reason, most likely due to something traumatic in Midnight’s past, which also helps. When Midnight tries to run away in shame after the car accident, the family persuade her to stay. They want to help Midnight get to the bottom of the mystery of these moods. As Melissa observes these moods, she notices a pattern: Midnight always goes off in the same direction, going a little further each time. After the car accident, that direction seems to point to Steepling Parva. When Midnight has another mood, the family follow Melissa’s hunch and go to Steepling Parva. There they find Midnight in a field called Marsh Meadow near Steepling Parva. This mood is a real performance – Midnight is yelling and screaming “It isn’t here!”, and her clothes are in rags because she tried to look for whatever she was looking for in thorny bushes.

Next day, Melissa and Midnight return to Steepling Parva to do some investigating. They learn that many years ago, a tragedy occurred in that meadow called “The Marsh Meadow Flood”. A river burst and flooded the meadow, and it washed a lot of campers’ caravans away. Their next call is the cemetery where the flood victims are buried, and this brings on another mood. Midnight starts babbling about her mother, and how she gave her the ring before the flood separated them. Midnight’s mood takes her the grave where her mother, Margaret Meredith, is buried. There is another girl there, and each briefly mistakes the other for a ghost. When Midnight and Melissa investigate the girl, whose name is Dawn, Midnight feels that this is who she has been looking for. Dawn’s parents are there and say they have just about had enough of her “moods”…

Just then, Marsh Meadow begins to flood again. The vicar calls upon the girls and others to help get the sheep to higher ground. Once that is done, the vicar recognises Midnight and Dawn as the Meredith twins and explains that the first flood separated them as babies. Midnight was found crying in her drowned mother’s arms and put in an orphanage, while the flood waters carried Dawn away in her cot. The police found her, assumed she was abandoned, and she was adopted. Dawn also wears a ring that is a gift from the mother, who was an artist. This ring has a rising sun, just as Midnight’s ring has a moon, so the rings represent each girl’s name.

Upon questioning Dawn’s parents, Melissa discovers that Dawn has been having “moods” too; wandering off and getting closer and closer to Steepling Parva ever since her family moved to the area. Melissa realises that these moods have been the twins’ way of trying to find each other. And now they have, Melissa is confident their moods are now a thing of the past. The twins stay on with their respective families, but they can meet whenever they want.

Thoughts

This story was another of my favourites from Tammy. It appeared in the early months of the Tammy & Misty merger, so I have wondered if this story was originally written for Misty, although Juliana Buch was not a Misty artist.

The very name “Midnight” tells us it’s going to be a spine-chilling story and it enhances the mystery and weirdness of the story. Until Midnight appears in the story, we, along with the Bright children, wonder if she is going to be a witch or something. It would have been less effective if the story had been told from Dawn’s perspective and watching her “moods” unfold, because her name does not imply creepiness as “Midnight” does.

The reveal at the end – long-lost twins trying to find each other through a twins’ telepathic link – is not a great surprise. Twin telepathy has appeared before in girls’ comics. Until then, though, it must rank as one of the most potentially dangerous twin telepathy links ever used in girls’ comics. More than once it came close to causing serious injury, either for Midnight or for someone else. If nothing else, it could have put Midnight into some sort of psychiatric care or made her a target of bullying, as not everyone would be as understanding or helpful as the Brights. Midnight has lost a string of foster homes because of her moods (not surprising, because they do make her look a real weirdo) and the fact that it is due to something she does not even understand would make it even worse. Midnight was very fortunate to have more understanding people in the Brights, and this really helped her to solve the mystery of her “moods”.

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My Strange Sister [1981]

Sample Images

Strange Sister 1Strange Sister 2Strange Sister 3

Published: Dreamer #1 (19 September 1981) – 10 (21 November 1981)

Episodes: 10

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Monthly #25, June 1988

Dreamer is a little-known photo story comic. Like many other new IPC titles of the 1980s it did not last long, and it became the first title to merge into Girl 2. It looks like Dreamer liked to have cute little animals decorating her bottom margins too. “My Strange Sister” was one of the stories in Dreamer’s very first lineup. Another of her first stories, “Who Stole Samantha?”, was written by Alison Christie.

Plot

Joanne Baxter tells her own story. She had once been an aspiring gymnast. But she has been confined to a wheelchair ever since a car knocked her down when she came out from her last gymnastics display. Joanne’s older sister Eve has been a tremendous help to her since the accident. Joanne is making attempts to walk again, but her legs won’t obey her.

Joanne can’t avoid reminders of her old life, such as a window display of sports gear or music from her last gymnastics display playing. She finds them painful reminders of course, but they are having even more bizarre effects on Eve. Eve seems to go off into a sort of trance, disappears and leaves the wheelchair-bound Joanne deserted, and then reappears with no apparent memory of what she did. Incidents like this are becoming ever more frequent. Joanne is baffled and concerned at Eve’s strange behaviour and can’t understand the reason for it at all. Eve’s behaviour is also putting a real strain on their relationship; they begin to quarrel and Joanne feels they are becoming like strangers.

Eve’s strange behaviour grows even more bizarre when her best friend Candy tries to take her out to the disco. Eve becomes inexplicably terrified and hides herself from Candy. Eve takes Joanne out to the disco instead, but another odd incident occurs along the way. They see a cat walking along a wall, which makes Eve inexplicably upset and she shoos it away. She says she does not want to be reminded, she wants to forget how it was…

At the disco, Eve’s strange behaviour acts up again when the music from Joanne’s last gymnastics display is played. This time she phones up Candy and arranges to see her outside. Joanne is watching them, but can’t hear the conversation. When Eve sees Joanne is watching them, she carts her off home in a bad temper, and accuses Joanne of spying on her.

On the way home, a police siren makes Eve’s strange behaviour act up again, and this time it is a real performance: Eve screams “Aagh, no!”, and then she runs off. When Joanne finds Eve, she is trying to hide. When Joanne asks her who she is hiding from, Eve snaps at her. She says Joanne knows that and she wouldn’t be surprised if Joanne had sent them after her. Eve’s outbursts prompt Joanne to attempt to walk, but she fails. Eve gets her back into her wheelchair and home, and again acts like she does not remember what happened.

The fact that it was a police siren has Joanne thinking that Eve is acting this way because she has done something wrong and is feeling guilty. Realising it must have something to do with Candy, Joanne phones Candy for an explanation. But Candy acts just as strangely. She says to stop pestering. More tellingly, she says: “Just because she feels guilty, that’s no reason why I should…even if I was with her that night.” When Joanne asks what Candy is talking about, Candy tells her that she jolly well knows and “Eve’s just being stupid about it”. She then hangs up, saying she isn’t saying anymore and wants to be left alone.

Eve realises Joanne was phoning Candy and accuses her of spying again. When Joanne says phoning Candy is not a crime, Eve’s odd behaviour acts up again at the word “crime”. She starts rambling about where she can go, where she can hide, and she must get away… Joanne realises that Eve seems to be hearing some weird voice in her head when she has these strange bouts of behaviour.

Next morning, Eve runs away. Joanne finds a note saying: “I don’t want your hatred as I couldn’t face that and I just can’t forget that night. It haunts me more and more so I’ve got to leave home for a while. Tell Mum not to worry.”

Joanne has not been telling her mother what is going on because she did not want her to worry, and she does not tell Mum about Eve’s disappearance either. But when Candy comes around to apologise for that phone call, Joanne shows her the note. Candy says she was afraid something like this might happen. Candy takes Joanne out to look for Eve while she explains what is wrong: Eve is blaming herself for Joanne’s accident. On the night of the gymnastics display, she and Candy slipped out to the car park. They found an unlocked car and played around inside for a bit with the steering wheel. This happened to be the car that knocked Joanne down as she came out from the gymnastics display. Eve thinks their fooling around in the car did something to it that caused the brakes to fail.

Joanne says that’s ridiculous. Candy agrees, so she does not blame herself in the way Eve does, but Eve evidently can’t stop blaming herself. The reason she was so helpful after the accident was to help her forget what happened. But now her guilt is resurfacing and intensifying, particularly at any reminder of the accident, such as the music, the cat on the wall (like Joanne on the beam), and emergency sirens.

After a long search they decide to check out the scene of the accident. Sure enough, there is Eve in one of her trance-like states. A car is approaching, but Eve is not moving or listening to Joanne’s warnings about the car. Joanne realises Eve thinks the only way to pay her debt is to get herself run over too. Desperation to save Eve prompts Joanne’s legs to move and she manages to push Eve to safety. Joanne can use her legs again, and tells Eve the accident had nothing to do with her; the car just skidded on a patch of oil. Joanne is very grateful to Eve for curing her, and Eve is relieved to be free of her guilt.

Thoughts

There have been many stories in girls’ comics where the protagonist is the architect of her own misfortunes because she keeps blaming herself for an accident. Usually it’s for some ridiculous reason or something that was not entirely her fault e.g. “The Black-and-White World of Shirley Grey” (Tammy), “Tearaway Trisha” (Jinty), and to some extent, “Tricia’s Tragedy” (Jinty).

But in this case the guilt complex formula is turned right on its head because it’s being told from another person’s point of view. This gives it a whole new take that’s completely different. In this case it’s the sister, Joanne, who’s also the accident girl. In so doing, the guilt complex story is turned into a mystery story because Joanne does not know Eve is blaming herself for the accident. She can’t understand what the reason is for Eve’s strange conduct and clearly unravelling mentality. Eve’s strange conduct and the mystery of it all are also putting severe strain on the sisters’ relationship and causing a rift between them, which compounds the situation. Having Joanne telling the story herself gives the reader further insight into Joanne’s emotional and mental reactions to the situation as well as seeing things from her point of view. This heightens the drama and tension of the story.

Adding to Joanne’s distress over her oddly behaving sister is that she is pretty much on her own, and she’s further impaired by being confined to a wheelchair. Joanne just won’t tell her mother what is going on, not even when Eve runs off. If the mother had known, she would certainly have screamed at Joanne for not telling her sooner.

It is fortunate that Candy knew the reason, but it would have made things simpler if she had spoken up, especially if she was worried that Eve might do something really stupid like running away. Her rudeness to Joanne on the phone could have come from growing exasperation at Eve blaming herself for such a ridiculous reason. We can just hear her saying, “Oh, come on, Eve, what could you have possibly done to the car to make the brakes fail? For God’s sake, will you please stop going on about it? It’s ridiculous!” All the same, why she says what she says to Joanne is a bit hard to fathom. But of course the mystery has to be kept up for as long as possible.

It is odd and rather unbelievable that Eve did not know the car just skidded on some oil while Joanne knew it. It would have been more convincing for it simply to have been bad luck or something. The way in which Joanne suddenly regains the use of her legs is a bit clichéd, but the story wisely gave hints that Joanne might regain the use of her legs if some blockage could be overcome. Desperation to save a loved one would be a most effective way of shifting it, and we are not really surprised to see Joanne lose the need for her wheelchair in the end. It would also help Eve to shed her guilt, something she may not have done even if Joanna had simply told her to stop blaming herself.

 

Minnow [1980]

Sample Images

Minnow 1

Minnow 2

Minnow 3

Published: Jinty 3 May 1980 – 30 August 1980

Episodes: 12 (skipped one issue)

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Minna Purves’ class starts swimming lessons. For some reason Mum is totally against Minna going to the swimming class. She says it’s wrong for Minna, but won’t explain why. However, nobody is excused from swim class without a note, so Minna’s off to it anyway – behind Mum’s back.

Minna has no swimsuit, so she has to make do with an unflattering swimming costume from lost property (no wonder nobody claimed it!) that makes her a butt for teasing, especially from Sharon. They call her “tadpole”, but the swim coach, Miss Garrett, more kindly calls her a “minnow”, and so her nickname is born. Emma is Minna’s only friend in the class.

Surprisingly, Minna soon finds she is a natural in the water and Miss Garrett even thinks she will become a very good swimmer. But when the waves machine comes on, Minna has a strange panic attack that she can’t explain (hmm, could this be what Mum was on about?). Following this, it becomes obvious Miss Garrett will have to give Minna some special attention if she is to regain confidence and carry on swimming.

Mum finally tells Minna that her father was drowned at sea, which gave her a phobia about water and losing Minna to it (but is that all there is to it?). In Minna’s view, this is all the more reason to improve her swimming. The coach for the local swimming club, Mr Byrnes, comes scouting out the class for new members, and Minna wants to join. They do trial laps to get into the club, but the noise from the cheering has Minna going off into another panic attack. This time there is a flashback too, of clouds and seagulls. Minna is pulled out and despite the mishap, Mr Byrnes wants her to join. But there are two problems: first, Minna has to pay fees, and second, she needs the signature of a parent/guardian. Minna addresses the first with her savings, which is easy enough. As for the second, well, she has little choice but to forge Mum’s signature.

While looking for something to copy Mum’s signature from, Minna finds other surprises that deepen the mystery: old letters in a foreign language, and a photograph of her mother and father holding swimming trophies. Later, when Minna wonders why her mother never lets her handbag out of sight, not even indoors, she can’t resist opening it – and finds an Olympic gold swimming medal with her father’s name on it. When Minna tackles Mum about it, Mum says it’s best for Minna not to know why.

That evening Minna goes to the swim club. To her consternation, bully Sharon is there too, but at least Emma is there also. When trying to dive off the diving board, the faces in the water and their voices yelling for Minna to jump set off another panic and she runs off, screaming that she has got to get away or she will drown like her father. As Minna runs off she unwittingly knocks Sharon into the pool, which makes Sharon hate her even more. Minna is encouraged to return to the water later, when there are no voices or faces, and her love of water returns.

Miss Garrett gives Minna a better swimsuit so Sharon will stop teasing her over the old one. But Miss Garrett also wants to question Mum about the strange panic attacks, not realising Minna is swimming behind her mother’s back. Minna does some quick thinking and says Mum is not in – which turns out to be true, as she’s late home from work.

At the next swim session, Sharon has the girls all teasing Minna by splashing water at her – which triggers off another panic attack. Sharon is stricken with remorse when she sees she nearly caused Minna to drown and she has to be pulled out. From then on she gives Minna no more trouble. Minna remembers more from the strange flashback: this time she saw mist over the water. But it all fades again. Miss Garrett says she seems to remember a bit more each time, and Minna finally tells her not to approach Mum about the matter because of the upset it could cause.

Newspaper reporters come in to do a feature on the swim club – and they would take a photo of Minna jumping off the diving board, which makes the front page the next day! Minna tries to hide it from Mum, but of course she finds out eventually. After the initial shock and anger, Mum agrees to let Minna continue with swimming, but she says something odd: “I think the damage may already be done…” Now what can she mean by that? Mum also says that she couldn’t save Minna’s father from drowning, but then Minna wonders how this could be if Mum and Dad were champion swimmers. She realises Mum is not telling her the full story and there is more to it. Mum also seems to be getting more overprotective in her behaviour when she suddenly starts collecting Minna from the swim club. While she does so, Mr Byrnes seems to think he knows her from somewhere.

Then two suspicious-looking men take a photo of Minna and Mum outside the club and drive off in a hurry, and they are clearly not reporters. The strange men send Mum off into a real fright. She whisks Minna off home and locks the place tight. She says it’s something she’s been dreading all of Minna’s life but still won’t explain what the hell is going on.

That night, Minna has more nightmares of the strange flashbacks, and this time she dreams she is a drowning baby with yelling voices all around her. One voice yells, “Leave me. Save the baby!” But as always, it fades.

Next day, Mum goes out to withdraw all their savings and tells Minna not to let anyone in. But the sinister men return and, with the unwitting help of a neighbour, make their way in and kidnap Minna. They tie her up and take her to a ship, which has notices written in the same language as Mum’s letters. They won’t explain what the kidnapping is about because they assume Mum has done it already (which she hasn’t). And then the ship starts sailing.

However, Minna manages to break out when a man brings her food (stupid idiot left the door open while untying Minna’s hands!) and she dives off the ship. (You will find it all on the Peter Wilkes page in the panel gallery.) The swim back to shore in the cold water tests all her new swimming skills to the limit, but she makes it – just.

Minna arrives home, where Mum and Mr Byrnes are so relieved to see her. Mum says the men were using Minna as blackmail to force her to return home, which is an Iron Curtain Eastern European country. Mum met Minna’s father at the Olympic Games, where he won his gold medal (and Mr Byrnes a bronze, which is how he came to know her). When Mum’s home country would not allow her to go to England with her new husband and newborn Minna, he tried to help her escape by boat. But it all went horribly wrong when fog caused the boat to founder against some rocks. Mum managed to save baby Minna from the water, but Dad was killed. Minna realises that this disaster was what she had been recalling in her flashbacks, and now she can see it in its entirety for the first time.

Mum made it to England with Minna, but has always lived in dread of her Iron Curtain home country catching up with her and dragging her back. This was the real reason why she had been so opposed to swimming, and she even gave it up entirely. She also realised her home country would try to grab Minna once they realised what a good swimmer she was, because they never give up.

Sure enough, the men come back to try again. However, the police are waiting for them this time. The police say they will arrange for Mum to remain in England. Mr Byrnes says it would be easier if she married another Englishman (hint, hint!).

A few weeks later, Mum is back in the swim with her new husband (Mr Byrnes, of course). Minna’s panic attacks have disappeared, and she is learning more and more about swimming from her Olympic champion parents.

Thoughts

This story must have been popular, because it prompted one reader to write to Jinty on how she loved the mystery and leaving everything unexplained until the last episode so readers could keep having a go at solving it. She also asked Jinty to write more mystery stories, which was a suggestion Jinty didn’t seem to take up much for the remainder of her run.

Girls always loved mystery serials. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to guess that Minna’s strange flashbacks, Mum’s opposition to Minna learning to swim, and Dad’s death from drowning are all connected. The mystery is just how they are connected. It deepens when Minna finds evidence that both her parents were swimming champions, so what’s turned Mum off the swimming that made her a champion? It gets even more tantalising when it becomes more and more obvious that Mum is not telling the whole truth. Not even when the sinister men show up, which makes the situation cry out for her to tell Minna everything.

When the creepy men appear in the story, their introduction makes it evident that Mum is not just some problem parent who is unreasonably opposed to the swimming because she was traumatised by a tragedy associated with it, as other parents in similar stories are. It becomes even more so when Mum starts behaving that she is clearly in hiding and making preparations to run away. This not only deepens the mystery still more but also makes it even more exciting. And when Minna is kidnapped by the strange men who won’t tell her what’s going on either and have her bound for some unknown destination, it all comes to a very exciting and dramatic head.

This is the first Jinty story since “Curtain of Silence” to use the topic of the Iron Curtain. As with “Curtain of Silence”, it uses sport and kidnapping as part of the Iron Curtain oppression. Unlike “Curtain of Silence”, however, the Iron Curtain element is not revealed until the end of the story, and it’s all part of the mystery that permeates the story right up until the final episode. We don’t even know the name of the Iron Curtain country or exactly who the kidnappers are. It also raises the disturbing question of just how much people who manage to flee the Iron Curtain ever fully escaped from it. Even in a democratic country, did the shadow of the Iron Curtain continue to hang over them in one way or other?

Barracuda Bay [1975]; from June & School Friend [1970]

Sample Images

Barracuda Bay cover

Barracuda Bay 1aBarracuda Bay 1b

Published: June & School Friend 23 May 1970 to 19 September 1970. Reprinted Jinty 23 August 1975 to 22 November 1975

Episodes: 14

Artist: Santiago Hernandez

Writer: (possibly) Len Wenn

Translations/reprints: Barracudabaai (in Tina 1971)

Plot

Susan Stevens leads an “extraordinary double life” that alternates between an assistant to a British secret agent, Martin Risen, and odd jobs when not assisting him. The current one is working for a solicitor, which Susan finds dead boring.

Then Risen sends Susan a newspaper ad for an adventurous girl as an assistant (mostly secretarial work with some possible scuba diving) in an expedition for historical treasures in a sunken Spanish galleon at Barracuda Bay in the Bahamas. Susan jumps at the chance to escape her boring job.

Risen added a warning of possible danger to the ad, and later he informs Susan that the department organised it all because they want someone there to help find three missing scientists, Wellington, Menworth and Slade. All three were working on a new process for refining oil, and they mysteriously disappeared off vessels that were sailing in Barracuda Bay. Kidnapping is suspected, and the department’s job is to find them.

In Barracuda Bay, Susan meets her new employers, Mr and Mrs Prinze. The Prinzes want Susan to type up the book on the expedition. Prinze also teaches her to scuba dive, and soon Susan is diving down to the galleon. She finds Risen there too, who instructs her to meet him in Sam’s Shanty restaurant, where he works undercover as a kitchen hand (under a chef who hates him). At the restaurant Risen tells her about a multimillionaire named Cornelius Kane (who looks like Kingpin from Spiderman, and he wouldn’t look out of place in a 1960s James Bond film either). Kane is their suspect, and Susan is to get into his home, the Villa Lotus Flower, and see what clues she can find. Risen warns her not to arouse suspicion or Kane will become dangerous.

Susan manages to wangle her way into Kane’s house, and deliberately leaves her handbag behind so she will have a pretext to return. Meanwhile, Kane and Susan see a fire at Prinze’s store shed. The fire is put under control, but Susan sees suspicious tyre tracks of a truck that backed into the shed. Kane also warns Prinze to lay off his diving expedition, in a most threatening manner.

Suspecting the tyre tracks lead to Kane’s villa, Susan heads back to investigate. Meanwhile, Kane has found Susan’s purse, but it arouses his suspicions – which means he’s now dangerous. Sure enough, he orders his henchman Parker to deal with the suspected snooper if she returns.

However, Susan is one step ahead with binoculars and detects Parker. So she sneaks in the back way. In Kane’s study she finds all the drawers locked, but then sees a glasses case – and Kane does not wear glasses. The case has the initials PJW, which are the same initials as one of the missing scientists. Susan also finds the suspect truck and an empty petrol tin beside it.

Susan has to rendezvous in Barracuda Bay to report to Risen. They then spot an underwater light and dive down to investigate. But as they approach the reef they run into a strange black cloud that blinds them. They are forced to turn back.

That night Parker turns up at the Prinzes’ house to return Susan’s purse and delivers a veiled warning not to go back to Kane’s house. He is also carrying a gun, and his explanation that it is meant for protection does not ring true. Susan realises Kane suspects her.

Then when Prinze takes Susan out on his launch, it floods and sinks. Susan discovers too late that Parker sabotaged it. The sabotage maroons them on a deserted island in dreadful weather. They are surprised to stumble across a shed that is locked, and the padlock is new. They also find a patch outside that looks like oil. Prinze assumes it is somebody storing fuel, which has Susan realise someone could use the island for anchoring big ships. Just then Risen arrives and rescues them after seeing the wreckage of their launch. Susan reports what she has discovered, and Risen decides the shed needs further investigation.

They spot a mysterious yacht approach the island and don scuba gear to investigate. Susan sees Kane, Parker and a man who looks like Wellington on board, but does not realise Kane saw her. He hatches a plot for her to have a fatal ‘accident’ next time she dives down to the wrecked galleon, which he puts in motion the following day.

Down in the galleon, the black cloud returns and knocks Susan out. When she recovers she finds herself trapped in the galleon and her oxygen is nearly gone. Fortunately Risen and the Prinzes sense something is wrong. They see debris floating up from the galleon and realise it is a call for help. Risen dives down to the galleon in the nick of time and realises someone shut Susan in deliberately. He now wants to send Susan home because it is getting too dangerous. Susan insists on carrying on, but Risen puts her in a hotel for her own safety.

Risen investigates the shed and discovers it belongs to Kane. He also finds a newspaper that has marked the arrival of SS Pacific Star, which has another oil research scientist on board, a Charles Scott. Realising Kane is plotting another kidnapping, Susan and Risen head out to the Pacific Star to keep an eye on Scott. The ship is holding a fancy dress party, but Scott is suddenly called away to the boat deck because a man wants to speak to him. But of course it is a trap where Kane’s goons are lying in wait to grab Scott. They are all in scuba gear, which means they must have swum underwater and sneaked aboard. Susan has followed Scott, and as the goons are pressed for time they decide to grab them both. They are taken out by dinghy to a rendezvous with a submarine. The submarine takes them to an underwater cave at Barracuda Bay that has been converted into a secret hideout. This explains why Kane was trying to get rid of the Prinzes and their underwater expedition. Susan guesses the cave is not far from Kane’s house.

Scott chooses this moment to put up a fight, which enables Susan to make a break for it. She finds a scuba suit and tries to dive to safety, but is recaptured with more black cloud, which she learns is black dye they squirt to blind inquisitive divers. Susan is taken to Kane, and yes, the cavern is connected to his villa. But that’s not the only secret in his villa – it also has a cell where he is keeping the kidnapped scientists in chains. Susan is chained up with them.

Kane, being an oil tycoon, wants the scientists and their expertise in oil refinement for developing a secret formula that will make him the richest and most powerful man in the world. To ensure their cooperation Kane is making threats to harm their families. Their work is nearly finished, and Kane plans to move them to Texas for the final tests.

Susan tries to phone Risen for help, but Kane catches her. Because of her stunt, he orders the scientists to be moved to Texas that night. Susan still thinks her message got through, and the scientists decide to make a break for it. They succeed and Risen tries to get them to safety – but then Kane captures the lot of them. He prepares to take the scientists to Texas in his yacht while he follows in the submarine, and he locks Susan and Risen in a cell in the underwater hideout. Charges are rigged to blow up the hideout – and the two prisoners with it.

But a miracle occurs in the form of an earthquake, which damages the hideout enough for Susan and Risen to escape. They don scuba gear and hope Kane left the doorway to the base open so they can swim through. It turns out he has, but not in the way they expected: the quake has caused the doorway to jam right on Kane’s submarine and trap it. Outside help is needed to free Kane and his goons. But then the charges detonate, which blow up Kane and his trapped submarine. The explosion also triggers a tidal wave. Susan and Risen barely manage to survive it.

The Navy soon picks up Susan and Risen, and intercepts the yacht to free the scientists. Susan decides she needs a holiday after all this, but it is to be a relaxing one with deck chairs and ice cream. No more deep-sea diving adventures, thank you very much.

Thoughts

This serial was an odd one to appear in Jinty, because it was not an original Jinty serial; it was reprinted from June. Yes, it had been five years since the original run, which seemed to be the minimum time span before an IPC story could be reprinted. So “Barracuda Bay” was free for a reprint by that stage. However, it is puzzling as to why the young Jinty should suddenly reprint a story from an older comic when she was not even old enough to start her own reprints. And she was more than capable of coming up with her own serial for the slot.

It is difficult to put the reason for the reprint down to economics. Unlike Princess II, Jinty had not become an ailing comic that was being forced to fall back on reprints from older titles to cut costs. Could the serial have been reprinted as a filler, maybe? Most of the episodes are two-pagers rather than the usual three-page spreads Jinty used for her serials, which would make it a neater fit as a filler story.

Barracuda Bay originally appeared at a time when James Bond-inspired serials about spies and secret agents became popular in the late 1960s. It is hard to say if this was still so topical in 1975, but the serial still works because it is full of suspense, mystery, kidnappings, action, dangers, spying, scuba diving, sunken treasure (even if they are historical treasures rather than valuables), and a balmy tropical setting. And it’s all rendered through the artwork of the popular Santiago Hernandez. What’s not to love about these things? Any reader would be hooked with the story because it is so strong, racy, tightly constructed, full of mounting excitement and thrills, and has a very proactive action heroine who’s also a secret agent. Even the title adds to the drama with the word “Barracuda” in it, because the word conjures up images of ocean menace.

Kane and his secret underwater base look like they drew some inspiration from the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and its villain, Blofeld. Like Blofeld Kane is bald, though he is a much heavier and stockier build and does not wear a Blofeld outfit. He does not stroke a lap cat (or any other sort of pet) and is not a camp villain like Blofeld. Still, his decision to blow up his secret underwater base is not unlike Blofeld activating the self-destruct to destroy his own secret volcano base. However, while Blofeld escapes the self-destruct, Kane does not. He gets caught in his own explosion when the earthquake causes his submarine to get jammed in the doorway. A pretty strong way for June to end a villain, but the way things went there was no way around it. Unless, of course, he jumped into an escape pod, fled the submarine before it was blown up, and returned to haunt Susan in her subsequent June stories.

Fancy Free! (1981)

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Published: 28 March 1981 – 30 May 1981 (10 episodes)

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Fancy Cole is the most difficult pupil in her school. She is slovenly, unmanageable, uncooperative, and a bully. What Fancy wants more than anything else is freedom – which she thinks just means doing anything she likes – so she hates school authority and rebels against it in any way she can. As for bullying, well, when you’re free you make your own rules. To underline her point about freedom she turns all the school pets loose in class to give them freedom, much to the consternation of the teacher and classmates.

When we see Fancy’s home life, however, she becomes a more sympathetic character. We begin to understand why Fancy is the way she is and we suspect that what Fancy really wants is someone to care about her. Her home is a tip and neither of them clean it up. Goodness knows what the bacteria count is like. Her mother, though not downright cruel or abusive as some parents/guardians are in girls’ stories, does not show Fancy any love or caring. In fact, Mum cares far more for bingo than she does for Fancy. They just argue all the time. It seems Fancy’s home life has been that way for years; when she was younger she used to pretend she was switched by the fairies and did not really belong to that family at all. As for the father, he has been absent for twelve years for some unknown reason. Fancy yearns for him and wants to know more about him, but doesn’t even know what he looks like.

Mum steals the money Dad sent for Fancy’s birthday for her bingo. This is the last straw for Fancy. She runs away, determined to find somewhere where she can enjoy freedom. On the moor, however, she meets Ben Harrington, who cares for the wildlife on the moor and has converted an old double decker bus into a hospital for them. Fancy becomes fascinated with Ben and caring for wildlife and wants to learn all about it. They are particularly concerned with a sick purple heron, and Ben can’t quite figure out what’s wrong. Ben agrees to teach her, but there is one condition – she must stop running away from whatever she is running from. Eventually Fancy agrees to do so, figuring that what she does with Ben will make it all worthwhile.

Ben also keeps telling Fancy that her views on freedom – being able to do anything she likes – are unrealistic. Nobody, not even wildlife, is completely free, for there are always restraints and regulations in one form or other. Ben has views on his own freedom too, which seem to be a bit touchy. For example, he can’t stand the word “prison”. He doesn’t like snoopers either and initially drew a gun on Fancy because he thought she was snooping.

Fancy is now reconsidering her bullying as she does not want Ben hearing bad things about her. However, she finds herself hauled up before the headmistress for the school pets she let loose and bullying a girl out of dinner money. Fortunately the headmistress is now dealing with a more thoughtful Fancy. Fancy says her action with the school pets was not the best thing for them, which she realised during her encounter with Ben. She also promises to repay the girl’s dinner money. The girl’s mother says it must be repaid by Monday or it’s the police. The headmistress gives Fancy three Saturday detentions, which will cut into her time for seeing Ben.

When Fancy finally gets to Ben, she finds a strange man asking questions about the place, but she tells him nothing. Ben gets extremely agitated when he hears about the man snooping. Following this, Fancy realises there is more to Ben than meets the eye. However, when Ben gets all strict about conditions needing to be met if Fancy is to continue with him, Fancy leaves in a huff, saying Ben’s just one more stuffy grown up who cramps her freedom.

Fancy arrives home in such a rage that she picks a fight with her mother and starts smashing wall ornaments. When Mum tries to stop Fancy, she says she had the same thing from her father and doesn’t want it with her. At this, Fancy really demands to know just what it is about her father.

Mum explains the father was a good-for-nothing who ended up in prison. She refuses to say what the charge was, though she does say the father pleaded innocent but neither she nor the jury believed him. He then escaped from prison and has not been seen since, much less bothered with his wife or child (then how did he send birthday money for Fancy, as mentioned in part 1?). Mum says that if she knew where he was she would turn him in. Clearly, she is very bitter and angry towards him and blames him for the life she leads with Fancy.

After this, Fancy becomes less centred on herself as she wants to go back and help the birds. She cleans up the broken ornaments and then goes back to Ben to apologise (for the first time in her life, she wants to apologise to someone). She never helps around the house at home, but is really enjoying cleaning up at Ben’s. While working, Fancy mentions the story of her father, and Ben hints he may know something. However, Fancy doesn’t know enough details for them to really make a headstart and Ben still seems a bit evasive on the matter anyway. Meantime, they turn their attention back to the purple heron. Fancy is really honoured when Ben trusts it to her care. He also gives her ten pounds as a payment. So Fancy can now repay the dinner money she stole with her bullying.

Unfortunately Mum finds the money and takes it to the police, thinking Fancy stole it (though it is implied that Mum takes it to bingo instead!). It turns out Mum isn’t too far wrong, as a check of the serial numbers confirms that the money came from a bank robbery years ago – and this is what Fancy’s father was jailed for! Fancy manages to talk her way out of it with the police and shift suspicion to her mother. So while Mum is now down at the police station facing awkward questions, Fancy goes to see Ben about the money.

It was a bad miscalculation on Ben’s part – he thought it wouldn’t matter as so much time had passed since the crime. Fancy now realises that Ben is an escaped convict. Ben is getting worried that the police might come, so he takes off and leaves Fancy in charge of the birds. Fancy is honoured, because nobody has ever trusted her so much before, and nobody ever needed her so much before either. She wants to stay there forever and never go back.

However, this has made Fancy absent from school and the headmistress and Mum call the police in. Mum finds the police asking her some hard questions about how she has treated Fancy and they say they will be keeping an eye on her after that stolen money. Before long, Fancy sees a police copter flying around. The weather turns against the police chopper, but it also causes Ben to have an accident. Ben decides to struggle back to the bus, deciding his place is with the birds, and never mind the police. He makes it back but he is dying. Still, he arrives in time to see the purple heron return to the wild.

Just before Ben dies, he says the money was stolen, but not by him – it was planted to frame him after the bank robbery. They then discuss the possibility that Ben is Fancy’s father. Their surnames don’t match, but Mum could have changed her name, and everything else seems to fit. So they decide it’s feasible and Fancy says she would like it that way anyway. Ben then dies and Fancy vows to carry on his work as the bird girl.

Thoughts

One of the definite strengths of this story is how Fancy’s behaviour is rooted in realism. All too often the reason why so many kids are problem is kids stems from the parenting they have received and their home lives. In this case it is Fancy being raised by a solo mother because the father is absent, and the mother is completely uncaring. The conditions under which they live make things worse. They live in squalor and there are constant money and even food shortages because Mum squanders money on bingo and uses Fancy to get welfare. There is no evidence of Mum having a job or bothering with one.

Of course Fancy is just as much the architect of her own misfortunes with her own selfishness and bad attitudes, particularly her bullying and her naïve notions of what freedom is. She does not understand that if she wasn’t so difficult at school it would be so much better for her and she’d have some friends. But the real root of it all definitely comes from the mother. Fortunately Fancy is not beyond redemption. Once she finds her vocation in caring for the birds and deciding the moors are made for her, that’s it. She wants to change and be different in future. Of course her bad temper still erupts with Ben and Mum, but there is no going back to her bullying ways. Under all that difficult behaviour lies a heroine with a lot of courage and balls. Nobody is going to push this protagonist around – she’s going to stand up for herself and the birds. And she always wants to be free. However, she is still being unrealistic in wanting to care for the birds and never return home. By law she is still a minor and needs a guardian and has to attend school. Hopefully they came to some sort of arrangement where Fancy could still care for the birds while still a minor.

Mum is clearly consumed with bitterness towards the father and blaming him for how she and Fancy have ended up. But just how much is the father at fault? Before Mum reveals the father was jailed and then escaped, both we and Fancy get a strong impression that old trout drove him off. The story cries out to have the full story of just how the father ended up in prison so readers would be able to judge how much blame the mother and father should take for everything. We only have the mother’s side of things, but she is hardly an objective observer, and she did not give the full details on what happened. After all, suppose the father’s claims of innocence were genuine? On the other hand, it could well be that the father was indeed a less than admirable character. Or he could have just made a mistake and got mixed up in something he shouldn’t have. Or he could have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We just don’t know because we don’t have the full story.

There are a couple of oddities that need to be explained. If the father was absent and had no contact with his family, how did he manage to send Fancy birthday money in part one of the story? How did Ben come to be in possession of the money that was used to frame him after the robbery? And just who framed him with the stolen money after the robbery anyway? Was it the real criminals or the police?

Assuming the father and Ben were the same person, he definitely is a far better person than Mum gives him credit for. It could well be that he started off less so, but became a changed person when he started caring for the wild birds on the moor – just like his daughter. Or perhaps he was the kinder of the two parents who chose to use his time in hiding to care for wild birds in lieu of his family.

Badgered Belinda (1981)

Sample images

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Publication: 10 October 1981 – 21 November 1981

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Orphan Belinda Gibson is a trust-paid pupil at Brockhill Boarding School. She is badgered (bullied) by the other girls, especially Frances and Katie. We get the impression Belinda is a target of bullying because she is shy and has no pedigree or friends. The bullying makes Belinda so miserable that one night she decides to run away.

Belinda is making her way up a slope when she comes across a badger, which soon dies. Belinda suspects it was poisoned. Then Belinda finds the badger’s new-born litter. One of them is pure white and she soon calls him Whitey. She lingers to feed them, but unwittingly caves in the tunnel, leaving them vulnerable to predators. So she ends up a surrogate mother to the sett, guarding them all night. This upsets her plans for running away. Eventually she decides to quietly return to the school so she can continue to secretly look after the sett, and voluntarily endure the bullying for the sake of her badgers.

Upon Belinda’s quiet return, Frances and Katie bully her again. But the bullying backfires when one ruins her silk gown and the other her tennis racquet. Later, Belinda uses the items to help the badgers, and has a good feeling at how her wonderful secret is helping her confidence. Back at school she starts swotting up on badgers. Frances and Katie notice Belinda’s apparent early rising for this and get suspicious. But in fact Belinda has been sneaking out at night for the badgers and loss of sleep starts showing in her lessons and getting her into trouble.

Belinda begins to feel that she should inform the headmistress about the sett. But then, Squire Blackmore, who owns the land next to the school, speaks at assembly. The squire announces that he will be lending his stables and horses to the school for riding lessons. He is also a big fan of hunting and endorses it to get rid of vermin. Fearful that badgers will be classed as vermin, Belinda decides to say nothing about the sett.

The girls have a free afternoon. The others use it for the riding lessons while Belinda goes into town to buy supplies for the cubs. But Whitey follows, and the bus with the girls on it is coming. Belinda hides Whitey in her bag, but his scent causes problems with other animals when she arrives in town. Belinda then bumps into Miss Green the biology teacher and discovers that she has been buying poison for vermin traps. Remembering the fate of the mother badger, Belinda gets even more scared. Back at school, she finds the squire has gifted prints of hunting scenes to the school and they are proudly displayed on the wall. Belinda is revolted to see that one print shows badger digging.

The secret tending of the badgers continues. But Belinda still suffers from lack of sleep and this causes problems, including more bullying from Frances and Katie who set out to disrupt Belinda’s attempts to catch up. There are other close shaves that almost expose Belinda’s secret as well, including the bullies poking around. And the squire seems to be going out of his way to become a fixture at the school, with constant visits, his prints and offers of free riding lessons. Belinda is now forced to go on one. She can’t ride, so she is relegated to mucking out. But then a pack of the squire’s hunting dogs gets loose and Belinda fears for her badgers. She manages to draw the dogs off with some aniseed balls until the squire’s hunting horn calls them off. But when she attends to the badgers that night, there is a man about with a spade, and he looks suspiciously like the squire. And there is evidence he was digging for something. Belinda begins to suspect the squire let the dogs loose on purpose and wonders if there is another secret about.

At the squire’s stables the next day, Belinda overhears the squire on the phone. It was indeed him she saw last night, and he knows there was a schoolgirl out there. He then says “I’ll leave the problem to you to deal with.” And when Belinda prepares to leave the dorm that night, someone comes in. She manages to evade the intruder but cannot see who it is. Later, she suspects it was one of the staff and now feels she cannot turn to anybody because there is nobody she can trust.

When Belinda goes to the sett again, she finds the squire and another man digging and frightens them off with her torch. Next day, the squire announces he will be holding a ball the following night to celebrate 200 years of hunting and the school is invited. However, a day history trip has Belinda drawing the conclusion that the squire is digging for buried treasure, which means the badgers must be safe.

Meanwhile, the teachers begin to notice the bullying. Frances and Katie are eventually caught red-handed and are punished with detention instead of going to the ball. Belinda tries to sneak away from the ball with food for the badgers, but gets caught by a teacher, Miss Harper. She is forced to explain everything to Miss Harper and show her the sett.

Miss Harper then tells Belinda something that only she knows about. Many years ago a rich lady took an interest in the sett. When the school fell into debt in 1881, she gave a grant that still keeps the school solvent, but on condition that the sett remains unharmed. And now that Belinda has shown her where the sett is, the squire can get rid of them once and for all. So Miss Harper is the squire’s accomplice! The whole plot has been to find and destroy the sett so the grant will end and the school forced to sell. The squire will then buy the grounds for development. And at this very moment the squire and his men are setting about badger digging on the slope. That badger-digging print had been a clue, but Belinda missed it entirely!

Belinda tries to escape Miss Harper, and is ironically saved by Katie and Frances. They like badgers too and are repulsed at the badger-hunt, and at Miss Harper for calling badgers vermin to be got rid of. They lock Miss Harper in a store room. Once Belinda tells them the story, they set off to rescue the badgers. On the slope, a race begins between the squire and the girls to get to the sett.

Evidently the squire was so confident of victory that he did not linger to see the outcome. He goes back to the ball and brags to his guests that their school is closing and it is their fault for not knowing about their school history (he may have a point there). But the grin is wiped off his face when the girls come into the hall with the badgers. They got to the badgers first!

It is the squire who is forced to sell out while Miss Harper resigns. Belinda is now best friends with Katie and Frances. There is only one type of badgering for her now, and it is out there on the slope. The whole school is now devoted to looking after the badgers.

Thoughts

“Badgered Belinda” was one of the filler stories for the last seven issues of Jinty. It has four page spreads throughout its run rather than the usual three. It is very unusual for a Jinty serial to have four-pagers for the entire duration of its run; usually four-pagers appear when a story is winding down, but there is pressure to finish it quickly. This happened with “Worlds Apart” and “The Human Zoo”. But Belinda was a four pager from start to finish. What could be the reason? Was it to pack as much story as possible into the seven episodes that the story was allowed? Or was it so that Belinda would help fill out the last seven issues more?

In any case, Belinda was the last Jinty story drawn by Phil Gascoine, and it literally bookends Gascoine’s run in Jinty; his artwork appeared in the first issue with “Gail’s Indian Necklace” and in the final issue with Belinda. In between, Gascoine’s artwork has been continuous in Jinty. There were very few instances where his artwork did not appear and several where it appeared in two stories in the same issue.

Story wise, Belinda is not one of Jinty’s classics, but she can be regarded as one of the stronger filler serials to appear in the final issues of Jinty. Belinda may even be the best serial in the line up that Jinty selected for her last seven issues.

Bullying stories are always guaranteed to be popular, and this one takes the twist in which the victim decides to endure the bullying, for the sake of the badgers, rather than trying to free herself from it as most victims in bully stories do (a la “Tears of a Clown”). The bullying is serious; we see Belinda shoved around on the sports field, constantly being pushed out of bed as her wake-up call and being forced under a cold shower among other nasty incidents. It is ironic that Belinda’s secret mission to take care of the badgers and keep them safe from the hunters helps her with confidence that she did not know she had. For example, desperation for the aniseed balls to draw off the hounds has her barrelling her way to the counter to buy them. This takes the girls by surprise as they always considered her “a weed” (although this does not stop them from punishing her with the cold shower).

Animals (especially orphaned animals) are always a hit as well, and Jinty makes a very strong stance against hunting. Girls’ comics have always come out strong against blood sports. But it is unusual to use badgers for this; foxes and deer are more commonly used when girls’ comics commented on the issue. The hunting has a very insidious side to it as well as a cruel one; when the squire has his hunting prints plastered on the school walls, offers the girls free riding lessons and invites them to his ball to celebrate hunting, it’s almost as if he is indoctrinating them into the sport. Belinda alone seems to stand against it. So it is a surprise when it turns out that the bullies take such a strong stance against the badger hunt that they lock the teacher in the store-room and join forces with Belinda. Mind you, how many pupils would really dare to lock up a teacher? That would be an expelling matter, wouldn’t it? Fortunately for them, it was justified. And the bullying problem reaches its final resolution. It goes from punishment, with the bullies being caught out in the penultimate episode, to redemption in the final episode.

Girls love mystery stories too. So as the mystery element creeps its way into the story with the introduction of the squire and his strange generosity, and then the strange goings-on on the slope, it would certainly have jacked up the drama and thrills and kept the readers engaged. It is a bit jarring that it turns out to be Miss Harper, though, because there have been no hints beforehand to suggest it might be her. In fact, she hadn’t even been named until then. Perhaps there was not enough scope in the seven episodes the story was allowed for sufficient clues and red herrings to be dropped for the readers to ponder on in solving the mystery.

Lastly, there is an environmental element in this story too. Jinty had been strong on environmental stories such as “The Forbidden Garden” and “Fran of the Floods”. We see it again in Belinda, with the indiscriminate use of poisons that are meant to kill pests but can also kill innocent wildlife. This is how the mother badger dies. If Belinda had not been there, the cubs would have died too. A whole family of badgers killed through the thoughtless of humanity. But the badgers are saved by a kind girl who not only finds courage and confidence in the face of bullying but ends up saving her school and finding friends at last.