Tag Archives: mystery

Mike and Terry (1979)

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Published: Jinty 7 July 1979 – 29 September 1979

Episodes: 12

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #12 as “The Shadow”

Plot

Mike Temple and his assistant Terry (short for Theresa, apparently) have a well-carved reputation as a detective duo. They witness a man (later named as Jed Adams) being busted from prison and are hot on the trail, but another man, posing as a postman, lures them into a trap that nearly kills them. The killer leaves a calling card that informs them he’s “The Shadow”, Europe’s most wanted criminal, and he’s not called the Shadow for nothing. He’s both clever and dangerous, a master of disguise, as slippery as an oil slick, and nobody knows his true identity. He’s already fooled Mike and Terry with his postman disguise.

They go to investigate an old ruin, a known hideout of the Shadow. Outside they see a councilman in a bowler hat putting up a “no trespassing” sign, then screams of help coming from inside. It’s from a girl being held captive by thugs. They clobber two of the thugs and tie them up, and leave the councilman in charge while they pursue the third, but he gets away with the girl. Worse, too late they discover the councilman was the Shadow in disguise. He had untied the other men while they were gone and left his calling card behind. Mike and Terry are left with trying to figure out the connection between the convict and the girl, and why the Shadow wants them both. A poster informs them that the girl is Shirley Gold, a pop singer.  

Mike decides to have a word with Inspector Dent, though he and Dent do not get along. Terry heads back to the office but realises one of the Shadow’s goons is tailing her. She tricks him into thinking she’s gone back to the office and waiting for Mike to turn up, so as to leave him hanging around outside the office so they can watch him. She secretly heads on to Inspector Dent’s, where she finds Mike has scored a blank with Dent. They slip back and keep an eye on the goon until he moves, and they follow him. The trail leads to a graveyard. 

A hand rises out of a coffin and pulls a gun. Terry jumps on the coffin lid and slams it down on the gunman’s fingers. They discover the coffin is the entrance to an underground hideout. They meet the Shadow, who detonates a device that causes a cave-in. The rocks narrowly miss them, but they are trapped. Using a match to find a draught, Mike finds a way out. 

The Shadow gallingly sends a bouquet of flowers to their office congratulating them on their escape and informing them his next victim is Lester Sinclair, an upper crust vaudeville lady famous for her dog act. They warn Miss Lester, but she doesn’t listen. Mike figures the Shadow will strike at Miss Lester’s fancy dress party, so he is going disguised as extra staff and Terry in fancy dress. But it has to be said that the Shadow would laugh at their disguises (along with the readers!). 

At the party Terry spots the Shadow and follows him, but he traps her with an expert knife throwing act. Downstairs, the lights go off, and when they come on, Miss Lester is gone. Mike and Terry put up a pursuit, but the Shadow gets away with his victim. They realise the Shadow was acting as decoy while his goons pulled the abduction. Later they discover the Shadow took Miss Lester’s performing dogs as well.

Mike goes for another word with Dent, who is a bit more helpful this time. He informs them that the missing convict was an electrician. Meanwhile, Mary, a friend of Terry’s, informs her that there are some strange goings-on at the old Hippodrome, which is scheduled for demolition, but an amateur acting society has permission to use it in the meantime. However, they’re being plagued by sabotaged scenery, things falling off the wall, strange noises and people getting locked in rooms. Investigating, Terry discovers an old poster of a show dating back three years, and Shirley Gold and Lester were in the show. They figure the Shadow is trying to kidnap the whole cast, and the remaining ones are Charles Damon (ventriloquist), the Rinko Dancers, the Dart Brothers (acrobats) and Dirk Dare (trick cyclist). They figure Damon is the next target. Feeling it is unlikely Damon will listen to them, Mike decides grabbing Damon first is the only way. 

But when they arrive, they see the Shadow’s goons are already waiting in the wings for Damon. After finding and rescuing the manager the goons left tied up, they recruit the manager’s aid in an impromptu conjuring act and use the vanishing cabinet to make Damon disappear from the goons’ sight. The goons turn nasty at this, but Mike pulls a swift, hilarious hat trick on one and hooks the other. 

Together with Damon, they make a fast exit, and have to elude yet another goon along the way. They head back to the haunted hippodrome. The caretaker, Mr Cornelius Mumble, agrees to protect Damon. Then Terry finds herself being creeped out by a ghostly voice. Of course it’s the Shadow, who planted a microphone on Terry, and they soon find he’s made the grab on Damon and left his calling card. The Hippodrome is riddled with secret passages and such, making such things all too easy. 

They soon learn the Shadow’s already taken the Rinko Dancers and Dart Brothers. That leaves Dirk Dare, who is working at a fair at Bletcham. Mike decides to go on his own, but Terry isn’t having that and sneaks along. She takes a rest at a field, and is in time to see the Shadow and his thugs arrive. She’s just ahead of them and manages to pull a fast one on them by hiding a “beware of the bull” sign. The bull trick delays the Shadow’s goons, but not long enough for Terry to get a good start on them at the fair. It’s hijinks on the fairground rides as they give chase. Mike, in another laughable disguise as a gypsy, helps Terry to hide.  

They discover that Dirk Dare has swapped trick cycling for the human cannon ball, and he’s just been shot out of the cannon. When he hits the net, it is the goons who grab him, net and all. Everyone on the show bill has now been rounded up by the Shadow. They can’t figure out why the Shadow also wanted the electrician, but when Terry points out electricians are used for stage lighting and effects, they realise the connection. They head back to the hippodrome to check out any connection Adams had to the show. Mr Mumble informs them that Adams was working at the show, but lost his memory when some scenery fell on him. 

Then Terry finds Adams himself, who has escaped the Shadow and is willing to talk. He says the Shadow is bringing the old cast together to help him remember something, which must be a job he pulled but the amnesia made him forget what. Terry takes Adams back to the Hippodrome before the Shadow discovers he is missing. In the library, Terry goes through old newspapers and discovers there was a ruby necklace robbery on the night Adams lost his memory. She figures Adams slipped out of the performance to steal it, but the amnesia made him forget where he hid it. The Shadow has reunited the cast to restage the show in the hope it will jog Adams’ memory. Unwisely, Mike and Terry discuss their deductions in public. One of the Shadow’s goons overhears and reports back to him. The Shadow says he will be ready for them, and the show goes on for Adams’ benefit. Terry then realises Mr Mumble could be in danger because of this, and she warns him. 

The show does bring back Adams’ memory. He retrieves the necklace from its hiding place in the wall and hands it over to Terry and Mike. The Shadow is ready with a gun, but Terry feigns a faint to pull the carpet out from under him. The Shadow is temporarily knocked out and revealed as Cornelius Mumble. But the Shadow recovers and gets away to fight another day. At least Mike and Terry have the consolation of foiling the Shadow’s plot, and they are going to get a big reward for recovering the necklace and freeing the kidnapped people. 

Thoughts

Though Jinty had her share of mystery stories, the detective/sleuthing theme was something she seldom touched upon. The same went for Tammy. Jinty published this one because her readers clamoured for one after she ran a competition asking readers what stories they would like. It was a pity Jinty did not produce more detective stories or do a sequel on this story, which she could easily have done. The ending left everything set up for a sequel with “The Shadow Strikes Again” or something. Perhaps a sequel was planned but didn’t eventuate for some reason, possibly the change in Jinty editorship or the Penny merger in 1980. Or maybe the story just wasn’t popular enough for a sequel.

Mike and Terry were probably riding on the popularity of “The Zodiac Prince”, the first Jinty story to have a male protagonist as the star of the show, as it is the second Jinty story to have a male as one of the main protagonists. Unlike the Zodiac Prince, Mike isn’t quite the star of the show – more of a co-star with his assistant Terry, and she eclipses him on a number of occasions. She shows more brain, comes up with more of the brilliant deductions, and also does more of the work. She also gets a whole lot more fun, as she rubs shoulders with the Shadow and his goons more than Mike does. She’s not scared to tackle a villain when needed and can move like lightning for a fast move. However, that’s not to say Mike can’t pull his share of the fast moves or quick thinking. Perhaps his best moment is his impromptu conjuring act where he pulls some fast tricks on the goons that are as funny as they are fast. 

Mike and Terry also have a lot to offer in the way of humour. They aren’t goofy or klutzy, but they give plenty of light-hearted moments, such as when they return a dog that’s almost as big as Terry or when Terry pulls the bull trick on the goons. Their only serious incompetence is their lame disguises, seen twice in the story, and the readers just have to laugh. You would think that as they are pursuing a master of disguise, they would pick up a few tips, but no. The Shadow could give them some lessons. 

A necklace, albeit a valuable one, sounds like a lot of trouble to kidnap and assemble an old cast for. Still, the initial plan must have been to kidnap only Adams. But the Shadow hadn’t counted on Adams’ amnesia, and the upcoming demolition of the hippodrome made him resort to desperate measures to restore Adams’ memory. How exactly he knew the location of the necklace needed to be prised out of Adams’ brain is not explained. We can only assume it was through some connection the Shadow once had at the hippodrome, perhaps at the original show. 

It is a pity the Shadow did not return. He is such a brilliant villain. He’s cunning and always has 101 tricks up his sleeve. From the looks of things, many of them come from the days when he was a performer of some sort, perhaps a knife-throwing act. He makes ingenious use of darkness, shadows, costumes and creepy old hideouts to lurk in the shadows, conceal his identity, and frighten people. He’s an amazing disguise artist, and such a slippery eel that he rivals Houdini and the Scarlet Pimpernel. There also a strong dash of the vaudeville about him, which makes him even more colourful. Any prison would have a hard time holding the Shadow, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he has escaped prison time and time again. 

Mike and Terry had the potential to return, but they didn’t, and no other detective story appeared in Jinty. This is rather puzzling. Jinty must have seen the potential for more detective stories, as the demand was there. Perhaps it was editorship changes or the Penny merger. Or it could be to do with neither Jinty nor Tammy not bothering much with detective stories and preferring girls to solve mysteries rather than private eyes. Detective stories were seen far more often in DCT titles.

The Disappearing Dolphin (1979)

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Published: Jinty 16 June 1979 to 1 September 1979 

Episodes: 12

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #4 as “The Dolphin Mystery”

Plot

Paula and her best friend Chris are on a school archaeological scuba-diving expeditition at a submerged Roman town in the Mediterranean. Raymond Gould represents the company funding the expedition and Miss Watson is the teacher leading it. However, there is some hint of locals being opposed to the expedition because they perceive it as a threat to their lifestyle. They don’t like the local dolphins either, regarding them as pests to their lobster fishing. 

At their first dive, Paula and Chris are delighted to befriend a dolphin. The dolphin starts helping the expedition, and he can somehow disappear and reappear again. They name the dolphin Dolphus and know him by a scar on his head. With Dolphus’ help they make their first find, though it’s only a piece of bicycle wheel. 

However, the girls soon discover they have an enemy as well: Mrs Ormerod-Keynes, a creepy lady who lives alone in a creepy house. She owns the land the school is built on (and half the town) and wants to shut down the expedition because it is making too much noise for her liking. Miss Watson is seriously worried about this and they hope a serious archaeological find will make Mrs Ormerod-Keynes reconsider. With Dolphus’ help they find it: Roman pottery with a dolphin emblem and sketches of what could be Roman ruins. Mrs Ormerod-Keynes is not impressed with the finds, but is surprisingly impressed when Paula stands up to her. For the moment she backs off. As they leave Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ house, Paula notices something odd about Mr Gould: he was keen to tackle Mrs Ormerod-Keynes but was not interested in the find they made or showing it to the museum curator, who thinks it looks promising. 

The other girls get fed up with the expedition, leaving Chris and Paula to tackle the third dive alone. With Dolphus’ help they find a submerged Roman road, but again Mr Gould shows no interest. Instead, he shows them a new piece of equipment he has just developed to help the expedition. It can take samples from the seabed. 

Their boatman was always difficult, and now he flatly refuses to let his boat be used for the expedition any further. He lets them use his dinghy, but now they’re on their own. Mr Gould’s gadget, along with Dolphus’ assistance, helps things along with putting markers down below and collecting samples. But then the current sweeps Chris away. Dolphus saves her, but they have to leave the samples behind. On the surface, Mr Gould is downright callous when he hears the girls lost their samples because they ran into trouble, calling it a whole day wasted. 

The museum curator is now excited about the finds the girls are making and runs a newspaper article about it. This has the unexpected effect of enraging Mrs Ormerod-Keynes (over more disturbed peace) and the locals (over their lobster fishing). However, the article has an expert on Roman remains, Professor Potts, all excited, and he wants to take a closer look at the dish. 

But the dish has mysteriously disappeared, and they can only conclude someone stole it. The girls go back to retrieve the samples, but find them gone too. They find one sample that got dropped, and then go to investigate the other boats to find any evidence about who might be behind it. They soon find evidence on one boat, but their enemy locks them in and then sails the boat out to be wrecked on the rocks. Dolphus sees them and goes for help on the shore. The locals regard Dolphus as a pest and just throw rocks at him, but Miss Watson is more perceptive and asks a fisherman to help. They rescue the girls in the nick of time. The fisherman says the boat definitely does not belong to one of them.

The girls explain what happened. Miss Watson dives to the site to check things out for herself and finds something. She won’t say who she suspects but goes to arrange a meeting with the person. The girls meet Professor Potts by themselves, who is still impressed with things even though the dish has vanished. But Miss Watson has not returned and the girls get worried. They narrow down the suspects to Mrs Ormerod-Keynes, so they head to her house to do some investigating. At a stable on her property they find a trapdoor. It leads down to an underground sea cavern.

Then Paula falls into the water and Chris can’t get her out. Dolphus turns up to keep eye on Paula, which reveals the cave connects to the open sea and how Dolphus was able to pull those disappearing tricks; the cave was a short cut. Chris goes to Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ house for help. But when they come back, there is no sign of Paula. Mrs Ormerod-Keynes says the place is her family’s old smugglers’ cave, and now it’s brought another death on her family conscience. 

Actually, Dolphus showed Paula how to get out of the cavern and back to the shore. On a cliff, Paula finds Miss Watson, who is badly injured on the ledge. Chris and Mrs Ormerod-Keynes follow and help to rescue Miss Watson. 

Miss Watson explains that Mr Gould is behind everything. He was using the expedition to investigate valuable mineral deposits behind his company’s back, but hadn’t counted on the girls making a serious archaeological find. This would attract unwanted publicity, which would threaten his scheme. When Miss Watson confronted him, she refused to go halves with him, so he pushed her off the ledge. The only evidence proving his guilt is the dolphin dish he stole, which he is going to throw back into the sea. The girls, Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ servant Smithers and a fisherman give chase. They see Mr Gould try to throw the dish into the sea, but Dolphus retrieves it. The fisherman is so impressed at this that he’ll tell the other fishermen to leave the dolphins in peace. Mr Gould is soon rounded up.

Mrs Ormerod-Keynes is very happy to join the victory celebration. The dish will go to the British Museum, who will take over the expedition. The headmistress adopts the dolphin as the school emblem.  

Thoughts

“The Disappearing Dolphin” must have been a very popular story with readers. Probably not one of Jinty’s classics, but it has everything to make it enjoyable with any reader: adventure, intrigue, mystery, a creepy lady living in a creepy house, saboteurs, scuba-diving, the lovely Trini Tinturé artwork – always guaranteed to sell a story – and above all, an adorable dolphin. Who doesn’t love a dolphin that just has you go “awwwww”?

All right, maybe those fishermen who see dolphins as pests and even throw rocks at them – what a horrible thing to do to dolphins! We rather suspect poor Dolphus got that scar on his head from a rock thrown at him. If the fishermen learned to make friends with the dolphins as the girls did, everyone would be a whole lot more happy, for Dolphus shows that dolphins are intelligent, friendly creatures. In the end that is what happens, and we can imagine things will be a whole lot better for the fishermen as well as the dolphins.

The story moves at an effective pace: strong but no rushing, so there’s time for character and plot development. It is brilliant with creating the red herrings and the list of suspects, especially the character of Mrs Ormerod-Keynes. She’s a creepy witch type all right. One look at her sinister-looking house that stands alone on a cliff and you instantly think there’s some hidden secret in there, one she doesn’t want revealed, and it’s the real reason why she’s so opposed to the expedition. It turns out her house does hold a secret, but it relates to an entirely different mystery in the story – Dolphus’ disappearing tricks. The reason for Mrs Ormerod-Keynes and the fishermen’s opposition was what it was, and it was an adeptly handled misdirection from the clues that pointed to the real culprit – Raymond Gould. His plot was brilliant, and marooning the girls to be smashed on the rocks showed what he was capable of. His weakness was not being a good actor. He let his true attitude about the expedition filter through too much instead of maintaining a convincing act of a genuine supporter. The girls pick up on his odd behaviour but fail to realise it is a clue. 

We also get a salutary lesson in patience and persistence, both of which are essential qualities in archaeology. The other girls get fed up with the expedition too readily and turn to other school activities. By contrast, Chris and Paula persist, not only in the prospect of it possibly turning tedious but in the obstacles from the locals and their mystery enemy as well. And their efforts are well rewarded, far more than if they had quit like the other girls. They certainly have what it takes to be archaeologists.

Lights Out for Lucinda (1975-76)

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Published: Tammy 6 December 1975 to 7 February 1976

Episodes: 10 single episodes, 1 double episode

Artist: Ken Houghton

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Rich girl Lucinda Prior is a spoiled brat, and she guzzles a lot too (not to the proportions of Bessie Bunter but still telling). She has her chauffeur drive out to where her father is having a meeting, which is oddly in the middle of nowhere on the moor. She is surprised to find soldiers on the moor, who tell her they guard a site of a ghost town called Blackmarket, which has been sealed off because WW2 top secret gas manufacturing made it toxic.

Lucinda then finds her chauffeur has stranded her on the moor. He did so because he got fed up with her bratty behaviour. He didn’t give a thought that this could put her in danger, which it does when a mist rises and she gets lost, and then she falls into a river. She washes up in Blackmarket.

Lucinda is astonished to find Blackmarket inhabited by people who are still living in World War II, right down to thinking they’re living in the Blitz. Blackmarket is surrounded by guards who ensure nobody ever leaves, even to the point of opening fire on them. The Blackmarket people say nobody is allowed to leave because the work they do is top secret. They don’t listen when Lucinda tries to tell them the war has long since ended. Soon Lucinda finds she’s in a virtual madhouse with nothing but 12-hour shifts in a WW2 factory, with constant blackouts, no street lighting, stuffy rooms from the blackouts, lack of decent food, and sections of the place that do look bombed-out. It’s all women and girls around her; all the men apparently off to war. Any men present are the army guards, seen only at a distance, and the sneaky spivs (black marketeers).

Certainly a shock to the system for anyone, but Lucinda’s spoiled behaviour is making it even harder for her to handle it. She is expected to pitch in and help the war effort with factory work, and is mortified to work alongside the unwashed and dirtying her hands. But the factory forewoman, Mrs Drew, isn’t the sort to take no for an answer. Moreover, Miss Guzzler is now faced with wartime rations, which lack nutrition and taste. Her spoiled conduct has them calling her “Her Ladyship”. 

Lucinda quickly switches to playing along as best she can, saying she’s confused and suffering memory loss after London bombing, which serves well as a cover for her not having the ID card they keep demanding or ration books. But she still hasn’t broken the pattern of her old behaviour, and is also taking advantage of good-natured people who try to help her, such as her new friend Annie. When Lucinda is told to clean a factory machine and slapped for not doing it, she foists it onto another worker, Gert, but is reported for shirking. To make Mrs Drew even angrier, Gert collapsed because of it. Lucinda’s punishment is to clean the canteen grease trap. 

At this, Lucinda makes a run for it, only to find the way she came has now been sealed, which not only cuts off this means of escape but also cuts Blackmarket even further off from the outside world. Lucinda is now convinced the gas is no longer a danger, so why is the army keeping Blackmarket sealed off? 

Lucinda then encounters a spiv who offers her chocolate flogged from the army, but the chocolate’s even worse than the war rations. She takes other foodstuffs the spiv offers in exchange for her watch. She offers it to Annie and her mother for making up for eating their cheese ration. But the WPC, who have called in about Lucinda’s shirking, confiscate it, and now Lucinda’s in trouble for black marketing as well as being work shy. 

Next day, Lucinda has to clean the canteen grease trap for shirking, which is a vile job. But this time she feels guilty when Annie and her friends pitch in to help her, as she knows this cuts into their 12-hour shifts and they will have to work even longer at the factory. She also begins to sympathise with the women and girls for the life they have to lead in Blackmarket. So much so that she begins to develop the wartime spirit and starts sharing food instead of scoffing it. Lucinda’s also impressed these people can find ways to cheer themselves up despite their hardships. It makes her realise how materialistic and hedonistic her old life was, and she’s making friends for the first time in her life. As time goes on, she begins to like her new way of life because of the friends she’s making, and is surprises herself at how selfless she is becoming. For example, she takes a box of chocolates she obtained earlier from the spivs to Gert to atone for the way she treated her. Along the way she gives a lot of the chocolates to kids who are so thin from wartime rations. Only two are left for Gert, who doesn’t mind when she hears why, and Lucinda did not scoff any of them.

As time goes on, Lucinda finds herself growing confused about whether it is the seventies or WW2. She’s hearing radio newsbroadcasts about how the war’s going, and now she’s even finding herself even thinking like she’s in WW2. Is the place getting to her and having a brainwashing effect, or is something else at work? She has to keep a grip on herself. 

Lucinda is finally introduced to the person in charge of Blackmarket: Commander Hobbs. The Commander issues Lucinda with an ID card and ration cards, but also strips her of her modern clothes and puts her in factory clothes to work in the factory. The Commandant later burns Lucinda’s clothes, destroying the one proof Lucinda belatedly realised she had to show WW2 has long since ended – made in Germany clothes. Lucinda also discovers the Commander deliberately removed the label saying so, who destroys it right in front of Lucinda. 

An air raid strikes, and even the spivs help to cheer people up in the air raid shelter. But Lucinda’s the only one to notice there is no evidence of bombing afterwards and says this out loud. The Commander’s reaction to this makes Lucinda suspect the Commander faked it, but Lucinda realises she’s made the mistake of alerting the Commander to her suspicions. 

Another thing that’s odd is that Lucinda has been at the factory for some time now, but it’s not been established just what they are manufacturing. And since it can’t be for the war effort as they believe, than what or who is it for? They also have to take pills with their rations – ostensibly, vitamin pills. When Lucinda resists taking hers because she hates tablets, Mrs Drew forces her to take it. 

Hearing the spivs are smuggling their goods in from over the wire, Lucinda tries to enlist a spiv to get a message out for help, but he accuses her of being a spy. Lucinda’s resistance against this strange setup has earned her a reputation as a troublemaker and possible Hitler sympathiser. 

Suspicious, Annie takes Lucinda to the Commander, where they overhear an odd remark between the Commander and the spiv about the vitamin pills making Lucinda “safe”. Following this and a strange spell of confusion where she finds herself thinking it is WW2, Lucinda suspects the vitamin tablets are really some sort of mind-bending drug. She decides to test her theory by not taking her pill, but the Commander and Mrs Drew force her to. Lucinda soon feels the effect of the drug, and is forced to stab her hand to break its power. She finds the pain sorely needed to keep a grip on her identity, as the effects of the pill are still lingering. 

There’s another air raid alarm. Now convinced it’s all a fake, Lucinda just walks out of the air raid shelter. Sure enough, there’s no air raid out there, and she suspects the sounds are coming from a door marked “Top Secret No Admittance”. But on the other side of the door the Commander has Lucinda on CCTV and, seeing the threat she poses, presses the red button. This causes an explosion to simulate a house being bombed, and Lucinda is caught in the debris. She is rescued from the rubble and now wondering if there really was a bomb raid. But Mrs Drew makes a slip of the tongue that has her realise the truth. 

Lucinda decides to play along, pretending she has succumbed, until she figures out what to do. Despite what happened before, she again tries to get the spivs to help her. Their reaction to refusing even bribery to help her makes her realise they must be in league with the Commander. The spivs chase Lucinda to the factory, where the workers rally around Lucinda and duff up the spivs for cheating them all the time. 

The fight distracts the Commander long enough for Lucinda to slip into into her top secret room. There she discovers the elaborate and definitely not 1940s technology that’s behind the whole charade. She’s also interested in what’s in an open filing cabinet, but then the Commander and Mrs Drew return. Lucinda manages to slip out, knocking out Mrs Drew in the process, and head back to the factory. At the factory it’s payday, at WW2 rates of £2/14/6, and what the spivs have reported to the Commander about Lucinda has aroused her suspicions. 

Lucinda turns to telling the workers there is no more WW2, they’re being brainwashed by those tablets, and they should take a look behind the locked door. She persuades them to stop taking the tablets, and they are also suspicious by the Commander and Mrs Drew’s reactions. The Commander threatens to blow up the factory at this sudden insurgence and takes Lucinda away to her office. 

In her office the Commander admits to the charade. She recruited WW2 Blitz widows as it was easier to bend their minds, and threw some kids into the mix for more authenticity. The spivs (and presumably the phoney army guards) are escaped convicts. She was using the women as cheap labour, using the WW2 simulation to pay them at 1940s rates instead of modern ones (and with predecimal currency in an era that has dispensed with £sd?!). The goods the workers make are sold at modern prices, making the huge difference between the cost of production and cost of retail a huge profit. The Commander then reveals Blackmarket’s biggest customer is…Lucinda’s father, and all the wealth Lucinda used to enjoy came from the Blackmarket operation. 

Dad comes along, and it looks like he is indeed the man behind Blackmarket and the Commander is his accomplice. He offers to take Lucinda home, nobody the wiser, but Lucinda repulses him. She’s going to help her Blackmarket friends, and runs back to them, despite Dad yelling she could get him thrown in prison. 

Back at the factory, Lucinda finds the workers have recovered their true memories after a break from the pills. Now everyone rises up against the Commander. The Commander and the spivs threaten to quell the revolt with guns, but Dad soon has them rounded up with a real army. 

Dad says he was forced to act the way he did. He genuinely did not know how the Commander was providing the goods so cheaply but was growing suspicous. When the Commander found out Lucinda’s true identity, she tried to blackmail him into keeping quiet, and also get more money out of him, in exchange for Lucinda’s freedom. Dad promises he will build a proper factory on the Blackmarket site and pay the workers modern rates. But first he’s going to throw a VE-Day celebration for them all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, it was rare for Tammy to have a World War II serial. The theme was seen more frequently in Tammy’s complete stories, such as her Strange Stories. 

It’s one of Tammy’s many slave stories, but with a difference: we’re not sure what to make of it or what’s behind it, so there’s a mystery just begging to be solved. The setup being what it is, could it be people who got left behind in World War II when the town got cut off? Could Lucinda have even gone back in time to the real World War II? Is someone pulling some weird experiment? Is it someone’s crazy idea of boosting television ratings (a la Mr Grand from “Village of Fame” or “The Revenge of Edna Hack” from Tammy)? It’s certainly a very elaborate way to conduct a racket, but that’s precisely what it turns out to be. 

The racket is far more imaginative than many slave rackets we’ve seen in girls’ comics: slaves trapped in a simulation of a historical period where they can’t realise what’s going on because they’ve been drugged and everything looks like the era, and they think they’re working in a good cause. They’re totally isolated from anyone or anything able to tell them otherwise until Lucinda arrives. It certainly makes a change from seeing girls kidnapped, pulled off the streets, recruited from workhouses or pressganged in other ways to work as slave labour in factories, business operations, or rackets of various kinds. It also makes a change from punishment after punishment being piled upon the protagonist for constant resistance and failed escape attempts. Instead, the Commander tries to subdue Lucinda as she has the others – through the mind-bending drug. When that faces failure, she tries to dispose of Lucinda, and then, once she discovers Lucinda’s true identity, uses her to make herself even more of a Mrs Big of the operation. 

Having Lucinda start as an unlikeable person rather than a nice person gives her a more rounded personality and have her undergo far more character development. It must be said the panels with the bratty Lucinda are more attention-grabbing than ones of a good-natured protagonist, and this arouses our interest in the story even more. We all know Lucinda will change for the better at Blackmarket, but we are all eager to see just how the change unfolds, so we happily follow the story for this as well as unravelling the mystery of Blackmarket.

Lucinda’s initial bratty reactions to these unwashed people, being expected to dirty her hands alongside them and wartime rations are not surprising. Some problem girls are tough nuts to crack and take a while to reform. But Lucinda’s smart move to switch to playing along enables her to change fairly quickly, with little in the way of relapse, and her change for the better is realistically handled. Although Mrs Drew is clearly a villain and a hard case forewoman, we have to cheer her for ordering Lucinda the brat to clean the machinery and then the grease trap. 

Lucinda’s initial snobbishness changes to sympathy and admiration for how these people can bear up under the severe demands of wartime privations. Guilt also kicks in when she sees how others are suffering because she’s not doing her share of the work at the factory. Shock at seeing how thin the kids are from wartime diet has her change from guzzling food to sharing it. But the biggest lesson is learning the value of friendship and having friends for the first time in her life. So much so that she is willing to sacrifice the chance to go home with her father because she refuses to abandon her friends to their fate. Also adding to the change in Lucinda is the growing disorientation over where she is and keeping a grip on her identity. She knows it’s the seventies, but even before she starts the mind-bending tablets the place is getting to her and she’s beginning to think it really is World War II. It’s hard to keep up bratty behaviour against such stress. 

Lucinda is surprising even herself in the way she is changing. And the old Lucinda would be astonished at how she is now. Sharing food, willing to get her hands dirty, learning to appreciate what she took for granted, discovering the value of friendship, even stabbing herself to break the power of a mind-bending drug. The bratty Lucinda would never have dreamed of such things and only cared about luxury and the city lights. 

Subtle changes in the art reflect the changes in Lucinda’s body as well. She’s losing the weight gain from guzzling and going from being too chubby to fit into the clothes she’s ordered to slimming down to wartime proportions. Facing true hunger and restrictions on food has her learning to appreciate food, even the stodgy wartime rations. 

It’s an enormous shock to Lucinda when her own father is revealed to be the man profiting from Blackmarket. It’s the ultimate test for Lucinda’s new character: do what is right, although she’ll send her own father to prison, or take the easy way out with Dad? When Lucinda gallantly chooses the former because she won’t abandon her friends, for a moment it looks like she will go the way of Amanda Harvey, who discovers the man behind the sewing slavery racket of “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl 2) is her own father and now has to turn him in. It is a relief when Dad says he was forced into behaving the way he did and had no idea what was going on. 

Mind you, that’s assuming he was telling the truth and not covering up for himself. There was that meeting he was having way back in the first episode – right in the middle of nowhere on the moor, right where the Blackmarket racket is operating. That sure is suspicious. And it is never explained. There might be a reasonable explanation, but are we willing to give him benefit of the doubt? 

The wartime hardships these women endure arouse not only Lucinda’s sympathies but ours as well. The creative team are giving us a serious lesson on how hard life was for British people in World War II from blackouts, bombings, slaving for the war effort, food rations that are in uncertain supply, the mental stress and breakdowns from it all (“bomb happy” as they call it), and hoping against hope that VE-Day will come. The effect is telling not only on their minds but also their bodies. They’re going unwashed because washing’s difficult. It’s not even Auschwitz, yet children are thin and stunted from short food supplies and the rotten wartime diet. Yet their spirits remain unbroken, they appreciate cheeriness and sparks of luxury wherever they find it, and they find courage and strength in the wartime spirit. The story shows us that even decades after World War II ended, the wartime spirit can still resonate and its message ring for modern generations.

Nurse Grudge (1979)

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Published: Tammy 3 March 1979 to 12 May 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Greta Jones becomes a student nurse at St Jane’s Hospital, but although she wants to be a nurse her real motive is to take revenge on the staff she believes are responsible for her doctor father’s dismissal twenty years earlier. Guiding her is her father’s old diary, which got left behind when he vanished years ago, leaving Greta to be raised in an orphanage. It is full of the names of the people who turned against him, but it never seems to explain what he was dismissed for. Greta does not know either but intends to find out from the staff. She also befriends Old Fred the hospital porter. Although Old Fred gives no sign he knows Greta’s game, he seems to take odd actions that either protect Greta or foil her tricks. 

Greta’s revenge takes the form of nasty tricks, many of which take the form of vandalism, which are pulled on whoever’s name pops up in the diary. Of course it does not take the staff long to realise a troublemaker is at work, and after one incident where Greta is spotted and nearly caught, they know it is one of the student nurses. Sister Harris, who is in charge of the student, issues a general warning for the troublemaker to desist. Greta decides to ignore this and carry on, with more caution. 

However, things get even more risky for Greta when of her fellow student nurses, Jocelyn, rumbles her after glimpsing the diary and then catching her red-handed. Greta manages to keep one step ahead of Jocelyn but can’t allay Jocelyn’s suspicions. Greta decides to set up a phony alibi during a weekend stay at Jocelyn’s: drug everyone in the household and slip back to the hospital to cause more trouble. 

Unfortunately, upon her return, the trick backfires dreadfully on Greta. It results in Jocelyn getting seriously injured and difficulties in getting help because of the vandalism Greta caused at the hospital and drugging everyone in the household. Greta is forced to do the preliminary first aid on Jocelyn herself while waiting for the ambulance. As she does so, she realises she wasn’t paying proper attention to her nurse training because she was too distracted by revenge. Only with notes from Dad’s diary is she able to provide adequate treatment. Seeing her revenge went too far, Greta decides to end it. Jocelyn, grateful to Greta, tacitly agrees to keep things quiet. Greta looks set for a fresh start.

But oh, what a time to get found out! It is now that Sister Harris discovers the diary, which got left in the ambulance by mistake, and realises Greta is the troublemaker. She marches Greta off to the hospital authorities. Greta does not deny anything and shouts it is because of how they ganged up on her father and ruined him. The staff explain that her father brought the trouble on himself. He got so carried away celebrating Greta’s birth that in a moment of carelessness, his cigar smouldered on some curtains, which started a fire that nearly burned the hospital down. His own wife perished in the blaze and he was barely able to save baby Greta. Now Greta faces expulsion, and her dream of being a nurse looks doomed. 

Then an ambulance arrives, bringing in some very sick patients from Heathrow. The ambulance men have collapsed from the illness as well. Old Fred promptly diagnoses the condition as a tropical fever that is highly contagious and could start an epidemic. He then reveals himself as…Greta’s father in disguise. 

Dad says the hospital is not equipped to deal with this particular disease, which is unknown in England but horribly contagious, and insists on dealing with it himself. Greta tearfully declares she will help as his nurse. But the staff are not listening. So Dad and Greta seize the ambulance and drive it to an embassy to get the serum for the patients. It’s a mad scramble to get there, with not only the hospital on their tail now but the police as well!

On the way, Dad explains that after his dismissal, he left England and worked in the tropics, which not only built up his expertise in tropical diseases but also rebuilt his self-esteem and confidence as a doctor after his disgrace shattered it. Eventually he returned to England but was too scared to reveal himself. So he disguised himself as Old Fred the porter at his old hospital as a form of penance. He recognised Greta, realised what she was up to, and was trying to help where possible when things were getting out of hand.


At the embassy they get the serum to help the patients and contain the potential epidemic. After this, they both feel redeemed. Impressed by their actions, the ambassador helps to sort things out with the police and St Jane’s, and offers both Greta and Dad the opportunity to help patients in the tropics. This also enables Greta to complete her training and become a nurse after all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, nursing serials were rare in Tammy. Both Tammy and Jinty used the nurse theme more often in their complete stories. Tammy did not seem to use revenge serials much either, but when she did, the best example was “The Fairground of Fear”.

Nurse Grudge had a strong influence on me when I first started reading Tammy, and it was one of my favourites. Its most lasting impact was being the first story to introduce me to the now-familiar formula in girls’ comics that whenever a protagonist is out for revenge, she so often discovers she was wrong about the whole thing and her victims were innocent. She was misguided, didn’t have all the facts, jumped to the wrong conclusion, or was deliberately fed a tissue of lies. And in these types of revenge serials there is often, but not always, a mystery is attached that needs to be solved. In other cases, the protagonist does start off with a justified motive for revenge (e.g. “The Cat Came Back…” from Suzy, “Stella Stirrer” from Tammy and “When Harry Dumped Sally” from Bunty). However, it can go too far or expose the protagonist to danger. 

In Greta’s case, it’s all because of Dad’s diary. Although Dad is suffering from guilt and shattered self-esteem, this is not reflected in his diary. Instead, it is full of Dad’s whining about how the staff went against him (without saying why or what he was dismissed for), which gave Greta the impression they all ganged up to get rid of him on some false charge. From the moment Greta could read it, she was in effect fed a tissue of lies and grew up hating St Jane’s and wanting revenge. Why Dad went this way with his diary is even more odd than the conduct of Mr Brabazon in Bunty’s “Down with St Desmond’s!”, who fed his daughter Carol-Anne a load of BS (turning her into even more of a nasty revenge-driven bunny boiler than Greta) about her mother dying of a broken heart over being wrongly expelled because he was too scared to tell her the truth. Perhaps Greta’s Dad was too ashamed to write about the details of his disgrace and could only write how everyone turned on him.

Whatever Dad was thinking, the damage was done with his diary. Because of it, Greta grew up with a grudge against the hospital, and it is reflected in her conduct. She goes about with a persistently sullen look and attitude. She wants to become a nurse, but it’s clouded by doing it for revenge, and it is affecting her full attention to her training. We later learn that because of this, Sister Harris was having doubts about Greta being a good nurse until her handling of the Jocelyn emergency convinced her otherwise. Her disguised father, although trying to protect her, does nothing to actually stop her vendetta or set her straight. In so doing, he must take even more blame for her conduct.

Greta is not all that clever with her revenge. Her tricks are just too obvious, making it all to easy for the staff to realise what’s going on and be put on high alert. There are plenty of examples of other troublemakers in girls’ comics who were so crafty and insidious at making their tricks look like mishaps or someone else’s fault (e.g. “That Girl Next Door!”, Mandy PSL #105) that nobody could even detect someone was making trouble. 

To her credit, Greta is not as evil as, say, Carol-Anne. For example, when Jocelyn begins to suspect Greta, Greta does not plot to get rid of her. By contrast, Carol-Anne destroyed a number of people who wised up to her by getting rid of them, and not an ounce of compunction about doing so. Also, Greta is has enough heart to be shocked into realising she has gone too far and decides to stop, something clearly totally beyond Carol-Anne. She also redeems herself far more than Carol-Anne, not only in her action to save the patients but in feeling remorse prior to being caught out. She also finds she has become a much happier person after she has no more grudge – a clear statement about how harbouring grudges sours your disposition and letting go of them makes you more positive.

The shock of going too far and deciding to stop and concentrate on being a nurse could have ended the story there. Instead, it’s at this point that Greta is found out, which feels so cruel. Just when she wanted a fresh start and was finding her proper course as a nurse. Still, there was the mystery to solve: what exactly led to Dad’s dismissal? In revenge serials there is often a mystery attached, and this one is no exception. However, Greta does nothing to investigate just what happened, though at one point she does express intent to find out from the staff. Sadly, it seems the only way to get caught and confront the staff was the only way to find out. And, like so many “revenge” protagonists in girls’ serials before her and since, poor Greta finds out it was all for nothing. And if she’d checked things out more, she could have avoided it altogether. 

It’s no real surprise that Fred turns out to be Dad in disguise (well, it wasn’t for me anyway). Dads (or sometimes Mums) working from the shadows in disguise have been used elsewhere, such as Mandy PSL #185 “The Traitor’s Daughter” or Jinty’s “Curtain of Silence”. But it is a bit surprising that he came back to England when he was doing so well in the tropics and away from all the disgrace in England. And at the very hospital where he disgraced himself in the first place! Still, he said it was penance, so maybe it is understandable. 

The final redemption does feel a little contrived. Why the heck would the embassy have the serum? It’s not a hospital, after all. Perhaps they were hoping the embassy would get the serum flown in or something when the hospital was neither listening to Dad nor equipped to handle the disease? Still, it is a dramatic and exciting way to not only redeem themselves but also enable them to continue their careers.

Secret of the Skulls (1976)

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Published: Tammy 1 May 1976 to 17 July 1976

Episodes: 12

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Annual 1986; Translated as ‘Het geheim van de schedels’ (The Secret of the Skulls) in Groot Tina Winterboek 1983.

Ghosts, the hauntings, the graveyards, the witches, the possessions, the evil spells, the terror and the macabre, and this Tammy story from 1976 has got the lot. And they don’t come more macabre than this one with human skulls as the gruesome stars of the show. Normally stories like these would be reserved for Halloween time, but of late there has been discussion about the possession serial in girls’ comics at Comics UK, and its close relatives, the evil influence serial and the doppelgänger serial (the latter of which neither Tammy nor Jinty used, but it was seen frequently at DCT). So we are going to look at a few, beginning with this one.

Plot

In the year 1666 Parson Sylvester and his daughter Prue run a parish at St Leofric’s, London. A lightning bolt opens up a secret crypt under the church, and the one-eyed (watch this) gravedigger Israel Quist is shocked to find it is full of human skulls. Everyone is screaming that the skull crypt is full of evil, and their advice ranges from re-sealing the crypt to destroying the skulls, but Parson Sylvester hesitates because of his religious convictions and is not sure what to do about the skulls. Even when he discovers that the skulls inexplicably give off heat and blister the skin when touched, he doesn’t take action. While he hesitates, he leaves the crypt open, which is an open invitation for weird things. 

Sure enough, weird things start to happen. It starts with the parson’s housekeeper Mrs March bringing one of the skulls into the house. Prue soon notices that Mrs March is acting strangely. She denies taking the skull, but Prue can see the tell-tale blisters on her hands, and then Mrs March falls ill and then acts totally out of character, becoming domineering, bullying and abusive. In the middle of the night Prue hears the church organ playing by itself and the door slamming on its own. On another night she sees the organ playing by itself – and images of horrible glowing skulls as well! The coffins in the crypt belonging to Sir Clive Collyngwood, a man with an evil reputation and the son of a previous parson, move around. There are rumours Sir Clive haunts the graveyard. Some of the skulls are stolen from the crypt by the roguish Rufus Doggett, who runs a novelty shop – of the macabre kind by the looks of the live skull and crossbones set on his shop sign. Prue and her father are shocked to find Doggett painting up the skulls and selling them as ornaments and candle holders to the gentry. Doggett offers one to the parson, who of course won’t touch it.

The parson goes to the Bishop of Canterbury for advice, leaving Prue on her own with Mrs March. That night Prudence hears screaming and in the church she finds strange mystical signs drawn on the floor of the church. The Collyngwood crypt seems to go up in flames, and then looks unscathed. But inside, Prue and Quist find signs of charring and Sir Clive’s coffin reduced to ash, and there is a skull from the crypt on the floor. Quist, who had been urging the crypt be sealed up again from the moment it opened, does precisely that. Prue begins to wonder if there is some connection with the evil reputation of Sir Clive, and Quist informs her that there was a book written about it somewhere. 

Meanwhile, the parson’s carriage is nearing Canterbury when the horses rear, causing a bad accident. And what do you know – there’s a skull! Added to that, he is attacked and robbed as well. Later, Mrs March gloats to Prue that her father will be delayed indefinitely. Parson Sylvester arrives at the bishop’s residence in such a ragged state that he is taken for a vagrant and roughly sent off. 

Prue looks for the skull Mrs March took, but there is no sign of it. When she tackles Mrs March over it, Mrs March attacks her and locks her in. Prue hears hammering noises from the crypt and fears it is the skulls wanting to bust out. A strange girl, Lucy Wendover, wanders in, and Mrs March says they are to be friends. But Lucy soon acts like a sadist, enjoying hurting things and cruelly mocking Prue, and taking over the place.

Prue finds the crypt ripped open and more skulls gone. Suspecting Doggett, she goes off to see him. He tells her all the skulls are gone and paid for (except for the one he reserved for the parson), but he does have information about Sir Clive. Sir Clive and an accomplice were evil witch hunters who “terrorised London” and sent hundreds of women to the stake for witchcraft until plague struck them down. He raises a hint that witches could be responsible for the weird goings-on. Later, Prue suspects Dogged knows more than he’s letting on. But as we shall see, she does not get the chance to question him further.

Back home, Prue finds Quist has no knowledge of Lucy Wendover. He shows her a grave showing that Lucy Wendover died over 50 years before and the Wendover line died with her. But in her own room Prue finds Lucy, with yet more blistering skulls, which she uses to torture Prue. Prue notes the skulls burn her but not Lucy. When Prue demands Mrs March remove the skulls, Mrs March says they will all be going all right, “and then the fun will really begin, as Rufus Doggett’s finding out…” Prue heads back to Doggett’s shop and finds it ablaze, with the unfortunate Doggett unable to escape.

The parson arrives back home in such a bad state he has to be confined to bed. Mrs March gloats over him that “it is our revenge”. She takes him to the church and shows him the organ playing by itself and skulls on the altar. She has the parish shut to worshippers. Prue finds a gravestone with her own name on it and next day’s date, but when she tries to point it out to Quist later on, the gravestone is gone and in its place is a freshly dug grave. The parson is now gravely ill, rambling about the skulls coming for him. The doctor says a witch’s curse has been put on him. 

Prue heads off to see Lord Farleigh about things. There she discovers Lord Farleigh has bought some of Doggetts’ skull ornaments and Lucy is his adopted daughter. In Lord Farleigh’s library Prue finds a book: “Stories of English Witchfinders”. It informs her that Sir Clive and his apprentice Jacob Stave were the most feared witchfinders in England who burned the innocent and the guilty alike in the name of bounty. They collected the skulls of their victims from the executions – hence the origin of the skulls. Then the plague killed Sir Clive and struck down Stave, who was also shot in the eye by a victim’s husband. After reading this, Prue realises their one-eyed gravedigger is really Jacob Stave under an assumed name. Then she is attacked by Lucy, who rips up the book and trashes Lord Farleigh’s library. When Lord Farleigh intervenes, he tells Prue the girl is indeed strange but his wife is besotted by her – as if she were under a spell. 

Prue still has a torn page from the book. It tells her that there were only one or two genuine witches among Sir Clive’s victims out of the hundreds he burned. One (Martha Rackshaw) swore vengeance on London, saying it would burn just as she had. 

Back home, Quist shows Prue that the crypt of skulls is now completely empty. All the skulls have gone. When Prue confronts him about being Jacob Stave he doesn’t deny it. He regrets his witch-hunting days and placed the skulls in the crypt as an act of remorse. He believes Mrs March has been possessed by Martha Rackshaw, who is out for revenge on London. Of course it’s to be the Great Fire of London, with the skulls themselves as the firestarters; they can grow so hot they can burst into flames when needed. 

It’s already started at Lord Farleigh’s mansion where Lucy has set the ornamental skulls ablaze to burn the mansion down. She hears her mistress calling (the possessed Mrs March) and comes to the parsonage. Quist and Prue overhear Mrs March telling Lucy the skulls have been planted at Pudding Lane and they will have their revenge. Prue finds her father under a spell and has been turned into a zombie who serves the witch. Under Mrs March’s power he planted the skulls at Pudding Lane. Mrs March tries to hypnotise Prue too, but Quist intervenes. The witch finds him familiar, but she does realise he is Jacob Stave. Quist and Prue break away. 

Quist urges Prue to head to Pudding Lane to warn them. But it’s too late – blazing skulls in the oven have started the Great Fire of London. More of them have been planted like bombs all over the city, and now they’re going off and spreading more flames. While panicking people evacuate, Parson Sylvester wanders through the flames, still in his zombie state. Lucy gloats at the sight of London burning, and Prue realises she is possessed too.

Back home, Quist informs her that Mrs March is burning down the church as well. Recalling that everything started when Mrs March took a skull from the crypt, they head back to the crypt in search of it. Sure enough, they find it there, and realise it is the true source of all the evil (Martha Rackshaw’s skull). They throw it into the flames that are burning up the church. There is a tremendous explosion, and the fire goes out. The parson, Mrs March and Lucy return to normal, and they are bewildered, as they don’t remember what happened to them. After the Great Fire of London burns out, Lord Farleigh promises Parson Sylvester that his church will be among the first to be rebuilt.

There is just one thing that worries Prue. It is not clear if there was one witch or two. What if there were two and they only destroyed one? Quist assures her there was just one and the evil is gone forever. But in the 20th century, on the old Pudding Lane site, workmen find a skull that is red-hot to the touch…

Thoughts

Phew … is your head whirling from reading all that? It ought to be. Once the weird things start happening, they come on thick and fast and just pile up, one after the after, at breath-taking speed, to send your head into a spin and confusion. So many things to confuse you as much as terrify you. The organ playing by itself, doors slamming, illusions, skulls that can burn your skin, screams in the night, the housekeeper acting crazy, a demented girl let loose in your house … the list goes on and on. Prue herself feels her head spinning about all the things that started happening when the skull crypt was opened, as there were so many of them happening.

The pervading thread through it all is those creepy death heads that just keep popping up as much as they mysteriously disappear. Wherever they go, we know something terrible will happen. Human skulls have a long association with hauntings. There are plenty of stories and legends to bear witness to that, such as Owd Nance, the Screaming Skulls of Calgarth, and the skull of William Corder the Red Barn murderer. These particular skulls have the added terror of always associated with heat and fire, from burning when touched to being used as candle holders, so it’s no real surprise to see they can burst into flames and act as firestarters. We aren’t surprised to see the story build up to the Great Fire of London either; we knew it from the period the story was set in.

Witches and victims of witch hunts wanting revenge for their burning/persecution and laying curses that are activated years later are not an uncommon thing in girls’ comics. We have seen it in stories like “The Painting” and “Sharon’s Stone” from Bunty and “Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy. But seldom has it been done on this scale – laying waste to an entire city. Centuries before the IRA, we had Martha Rackshaw and her skulls launching a terrorist attack on London with skulls that can explode, burn and destroy. We can see the cunning behind it all, having Mrs March take Martha Rackshaw’s skull and thus possessing her. Allowing (or even influencing) Rufus Doggett to take the skulls and start selling them all around as painted up ornaments was a crafty way to distribute time bombs all set to go off when the time was right. Hypnotising Parson Sylvester into planting the rest all over London and using an oven to light the fuse were also inspired. The combined heat from the skulls and the oven was the perfect combustion. 

The motives for possessing Lucy are not so clear, and it’s never established how she became possessed. It’s a bit hard to understand what Rackshaw was trying to gain by it other than tormenting Prue and setting fire to Lord Farleigh’s house. We presume she was somehow possessed by the second witch as she was not hypnotised into being a servant like Parson Sylvester. Perhaps the possession was so Rackshaw could have a willing accomplice and one with handy access to the gentry. Whatever it is, the possessed Lucy is a riot in all the scenes she appears and she ramps up the excitement and horror even more.

Although Martha Rackshaw is evil, we might have some sneaking degree of sympathy for her, and more so for the other victims. After all, they were innocent people executed in the name of profit and superstition. The real blame lies in the evil, profiteering Sir Clive and his witch hunting. Or we might not be so sympathetic to Rackshaw, as she is inflicting revenge on innocent people, not the ones responsible for her burning. Anyway, she is evil and has to be destroyed. 

Sir Clive is also to blame for the catastrophe by collecting those skulls in the first place as much as for his witch-hunting. In so doing he unwittingly created the weapons the witches used for their revenge. What the hell was he thinking there, collecting the skulls? Was he some sort of ghoul or trophy hunter? The purpose of burning witches is to destroy their evil, so no trace of them must remain. Anyway, how was he able to collect those skulls from the burnings when they should have been burned in the fires? Did he (ulp) behead his victims before burning them? And the irony is, Jacob Stave/Israel Quist unwittingly facilitated the witches’ revenge through his act of remorse as much as his acts of witch-hunting by secretly placing the skulls in the crypt. In so doing he created a ticking time bomb waiting to be discovered. 

The story has a strong but curious message about the evils of witch hunting. Although the people believe in witches, the condemnation of Sir Clive for his witch hunting is strong and he is regarded as evil for this reason. Rufus Doggett says “may his name be forever cursed”, “stands to reason [Sir Clive’s victims] couldn’t all be witches but those two creatures made ‘em confess nevertheless” and their downfall was “the good God at work”. The book on witch hunters does not praise Sir Clive and Stave either; it says they burned the innocent and guilty alike because of the profit they made from it. We even get sceptics who don’t believe in witches. For example, Parson Sylvester always regarded such things as “foolish” and Prue believed the same until the skulls persuaded her otherwise. However, considering that this is also a witch’s revenge story with genuine witches, the message feels rather mixed.

When I first came across the story in the Girl annual reprint I thought it must be reprinted from Misty, what with all these creepy skulls being allowed to feature in gay abandon and freak out any girl to read the story. It was a surprise to learn it originally appeared in Tammy and two years before IPC’s famous queen of the screams title was launched. A story laden with skulls was certainly a bold, audacious move, and ahead of its time in being two years before Misty. It just goes to show the older IPC girls titles could rival Misty for scares when they needed to. The story is worthy of Misty herself, and the artwork of Mario Capaldi really brings off both the macabre elements, the historical setting, and the grim, dark atmosphere of the story. This story is guaranteed to both frighten and thrill any girl to read it and have any parent up in arms (the latter of which would delight the Misty team, as it was a sign they had done things right). It is a story Misty would be proud of. 

Lara the Loner (1981)

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Published: Tammy 10 October 1981 to 5 December 1981

Episodes: 9

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Ever since she can remember, orphan Lara Wolfe has had a fear of crowds (ochlophobia) and panics like nobody’s business whenever she gets caught in one. Lara has no idea why she has this phobia. Gran says she will explain why when she feels Lara is old enough to understand. But when Gran finally decides the time has come, she dies of a heart attack before she can explain. Well timed, Gran.

Living in the country, where things are less crowded, has made it easier for Lara to cope with ochlophobia. But after Gran’s death, social welfare moves her to the city. In the city, things are even more crowded, both at school and at the children’s home Lara now lives in. This makes Lara’s phobia even worse. Then, after a bully at the home publicly humiliates Lara over her phobia, she vows she won’t tell anyone else about it. And she has the added frustration of still not knowing the reason for it all. 

So now the stage is set for the setup that follows until the end of the story: Lara’s phobia, which drives her to either avoid crowds or flee from them in a blind panic, combined with her refusal to explain the problem, gets her into a whole heap of trouble. It leads to misunderstandings and spoiled opportunities and friendships that make her increasingly unpopular, both at the children’s home and at school. The girls all think Lara shuns them and doesn’t mix in anything (because of her fear) because she’s an antisocial, stuck-up loner. So they call her “Lara the Loner”. Lara can’t make or keep friends or do activities she would love to do because her fear keeps messing everything up. 

The misunderstandings reach the point where the girls, both at the home and at school, turn right against Lara. A wonderful opportunity to be adopted is also spoiled by her phobia – and nearly gets her wrongly charged with shoplifting as well. Lara’s phobia even puts her in hospital – twice. But not even these hospitalisations or running off because she’s so miserable do anything to improve her popularity. Neither does nearly dying of pneumonia, which Lara contracts because of her phobia (forced to take a long walk in pouring rain because the bus is crowded). Matron has to force the girls at the home to make the “welcome home” banner for Lara.

Lara has only one friend at the home, a little girl named Susie. But Susie gets adopted – by the same couple who rejected Lara after the false impression she was a shoplifter. Now Lara has nobody and crying at how her phobia is ruining her whole life.

Another couple, the Maxwells, take an interest in adopting Lara. This time, when Lara gets into a panic in front of them, she tells them about her phobia before rushing off. Lara is astonished to find them very understanding because Mrs Maxwell has ochlophobia too. Now Lara and Mrs Maxwell have found they are kindred spirits, they draw even closer together.

Then Lara stumbles across a newspaper cutting at the Maxwells’. It informs her that when she was a baby, she, her parents, and the Maxwells’ daughter Susie got caught in an accident where a bus mounted a crowded pavement. She was thrown clear, but her parents and Susie were killed. So Lara and Mrs Maxwell have ochlophobia for the same reason!

Moments after Lara discovers the reason for her phobia, the accident is re-enacted when a van mounts a crowded pavement. Fearful that Mrs Maxwell has been caught up in it, Lara dashes out and, forgetting her fear, pushes her way into the crowd in search of her. Seeing Lara push her way into the crowd, a concerned Mrs Maxwell does the same. After this, they are overjoyed to find they are not scared of crowds anymore. 

Now ochlophobia is no longer a barrier and there are no more panics from it, there is nothing to stop Lara mixing at school. She is now the biggest mixer of them all there, she has friends at last, and her popularity is on the rise. 

Naturally, the Maxwells adopt Lara and she becomes Lara Maxwell. 

Thoughts

Serials about a whole string of misunderstandings and unfair unpopularity caused by a phobia were more commonly found at DCT than at IPC. One example is “A Dog’s Life for Debbie” from Tracy. A fear of dogs keeps messing things up for Debbie Bruce and, like Lara, makes her increasingly unpopular because of all the misunderstandings her phobia causes.

A story with this format in an IPC title makes it more refreshing, as it appeared less often at IPC than DCT. Also of interest is that the story format deviates from DCT where a misunderstanding caused by Lara’s phobia always ends on a cliffhanger. It is not until the next episode that we see how it turns out. And until the final episode it is not in Lara’s favour! Had this story run at DCT, each misunderstanding would have been shown in a self-contained episode until the penultimate episode. 

Lara’s phobia sure is one that can make life really difficult, for unless you live in serious isolation crowds are virtually unavoidable. And it is a serious barrier to socialising or even doing everyday things in public areas. Lara panicking in a crowd is also dangerous, not only for her but for others as well. This is shown on several occasions in the story. For example, in one episode Lara accidentally hits a girl with her hockey stick while she panics to get out of a crowd. In another, she causes a pile-up at the school disco – with her at the bottom.

These misunderstandings could have been sorted out and Lara not so unpopular if she had simply explained. But she has sworn not to tell anyone about her phobia after the bullying incident. So people continue to jump to the wrong conclusions about Lara and she becomes even more unpopular and miserable. It is fortunate for Lara that for once she forgot that vow and told the Maxwells. If not, it would have been another miserable misunderstanding for her. The message is clear: if you have a problem with a phobia, tell someone about it and try to get help for it. 

Getting help with the phobia is something Lara never does. Gran does not help Lara overcome the problem either, although she is sympathetic and knows the reason for it. But help for phobias is available if you care to look.

Added to Lara’s misery is her not knowing why she is scared of crowds. In most other phobia serials the girl at least knows why she has the phobia, but not in this case. It also gives the element of mystery to the story to unravel, and girls just love mystery. So the mystery would have made them eager to follow the story even more. And when the reveal comes, we suspect it will hold the key to solving Lara’s problem. It’s no surprise to find it’s linked with how Lara got orphaned. The cure is also associated with the original incident: a re-enactment of it, which has both Lara and Mrs Maxwell face their ochlophobia. And they did it without even thinking about it because other thoughts overrode their fear.  

Thursday’s Child (1979)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 20 January 1979 – 31 March 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Juan Solé

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/Reprints: Girl (second series) Picture Library #29 (abridged); Tina 1986 as “Merel, het meisje van morgen” [Merel, the girl from tomorrow]. 

We continue our Halloween season with one of Tammy’s very best spooky stories, “Thursday’s Child”.

Plot

Life has always been good to Thursday Brown, at home and at school. Hmm, do we sense an “until” coming? Oh yes, and it starts when Mum tells Thursday to put the family Union Jack flag away in the loft until it is needed for the millennium celebrations in 2000. While doing so, Thursday ponders where she will be in 2000, and the thought crosses her mind that she might have a daughter.

Then Thursday decides to use the flag for a bedspread instead. Her mother reluctantly agrees, hinting there is something about that flag when she says there was a story grandfather told her about it. Thursday gets her first taste of this when she washes the flag: red liquid comes out in the wash, and Thursday is creeped out to find it feels more like blood to the touch than dye.

That night, the weirdness really begins. Thursday can’t sleep because she feels awful for some reason. She leaves the bed momentarily and recovers, but when she comes back there is a strange girl in her bed. The girl is crying and makes strange ramblings about her mother and how she’s suffering, and if only things had been different. Thursday also notices that the girl bears a resemblance to her. The girl introduces herself as Julie Kemp and really insists on staying, claiming it is her home after all. She wheedles Thursday into helping her stay on with a cover story to her parents. 

At school, Julie plays nasty tricks on Thursday. Moreover, Thursday used to be popular, but now her friends just seem to go off her and make a big fuss over Julie instead. Thursday is out in the cold and nobody seems to care about her anymore. Most telling of all, Julie draws a picture of Thursday in a wheelchair in art class. This upsets Thursday, but nobody sympathises with her. 

Thursday gets the feeling Julie is getting her own back on her for something, but for what? She has never done anything to Julie. But Julie is definitely giving Thursday evil, vindictive looks full of utter hate. When Julie is finally given thought bubbles, we see she is thinking Thursday deserves everything that’s coming to her. 

Julie then claims to be Thursday’s own daughter from the future, and she has travelled back in time to the present. All the hints Julie has dropped now have Thursday thinking something horrible awaits her in the future and she will become wheelchair-bound. Thursday is also getting terrifying manifestations of blood on her face and hands (and it’s not stigmata), and experiences an inexplicable bout of paralysis in her legs. Julie just gloats over this. 

During a fight with Julie, Thursday is consumed by a hatred she never felt before, and it shocks her when she realises. Then she sees the flag glowing. She shows this to Julie, who is disturbed by it too. Thursday tells Julie the flag is making them hate each other. Julie doesn’t argue. Is she having second thoughts about whatever it is she has against Thursday? She does become nicer to Thursday after this and even prompts Thursday’s friends to be nice to her again. But is Julie’s friendliness for real? She has put on false shows of niceness to Thursday before.

Remembering what Mum said about the flag, Thursday asks her for the story about it. But Mum can’t remember what it was. Thanks a lot, Mum.

Thursday decides to follow her mother’s advice and put the flag in the loft. But while doing so she has a fall, which both the flag and Julie (influenced by the flag) cause. The accident leaves Thursday’s legs paralysed for real, with no apparent explanation except shock (or the power of the flag?). Julie really is rubbing it in and Thursday is learning the hard way what it means to be disabled.

Despite her paralysis, Thursday manages to get the flag into the loft, hoping this will stop the trouble. But as soon as she turns the tap on, more blood-like water comes out. The parents put this down to dye running out because the flag was put near the water tank – but Thursday put it in the trunk! The flag is making it clear that being in the loft won’t stop it. 

Julie has persistently refused to explain why she hates Thursday or just what happened in the future, but now she gives way. She is indeed Thursdays’ daughter from the future. In fact, the house Thursday living in now is where she will raise Julie once she’s married and the room that is currently Thursday’s will become Julie’s. In Julie’s time, Thursday’s careless driving (nagging at Julie over her untidy appearance instead of watching the road) caused an accident that left Julie’s legs paralysed. This embittered Julie and turned her against her mother. Then Thursday brought the flag out as a bedspread for Julie (oh, dear, where have we seen that before?) and gave her a library book about the Westshires, a British regiment that one of their ancestors served in. When Julie read it, it told her something about the flag. She then used the flag’s power to go back in time to regain the use of her legs, get her revenge on Thursday, and have Thursday know what it’s like to be paralysed. And she is determined to stay in Thursday’s time although she’s not supposed to be there and her presence is messing up continuity.

Thursday tracks down the library book. She learns a South Sea island chief, Battanga, ran a cult of the Undead, which ran amok. The Westshires were dispatched to crush the cult and Thursday’s great-grandfather killed Battanga. As Battanga lay dying, he cursed great-grandfather’s family, saying his blood is upon them and their descendants, and he will return for revenge someday. His bloodied hands grasped the flag as he made his curse (which would explain the blood manifestations). Since then, Thursday’s family have regarded the flag as “a token of ill-fortune” (but they just have to keep the ruddy thing, don’t they?).

Thursday now realises the flag has to be destroyed utterly. Julie won’t agree, as this would mean sending her back to the future where she will be paralysed. Thursday points out the future will be altered, as the flag, if destroyed in this time, won’t exist in Julie’s time as it did before, which may change the future and prevent the accident. Julie still won’t budge.

Then the flag has a workman take a hacksaw to his own hand (urrghh!) when he is told to remove everything in the loft. This has Julie realise things have gone too far and how horrible she’s been. She agrees to help Thursday take the flag to the dump to be burned, and take her chances on what happens when she returns to her own time.

But of course the flag puts up a fight – and how silly of them to drape it over Thursday’s wheelchair! The flag seizes its chance to race Thursday’s wheelchair over to the canal, wrap itself around her, and try to drown her while Battanga himself appears and gloats over Thursday’s impending doom. Fortunately Julie manages to save Thursday in time. After the rescue, Thursday suddenly finds she can walk again. 

The flag washes up just where they want it to be – the dump – and it is thrown into a fire. Once the flag is destroyed, Julie vanishes. Thursday feels the timeline has been altered sufficiently to prevent Julie’s accident but “won’t know for sure until today catches up with tomorrow…”. Yeah, assuming it is the same tomorrow. What else will be altered because of Julie and the flag’s meddling with the timeline? 

Thoughts

“Thursday’s Child” is a Tammy classic and it was hugely popular, attracting comment in the letters section and even Tammy’s 10th birthday issue. It sure was one of my favourites and I was dying to read the next episode each week. 

The artwork of Juan Solé must have been a delightful novelty for Tammy readers. Solé’s artwork appeared more frequently in June, but this is his only Tammy serial. It is a shame he did not draw more for Tammy (apart from a couple of Strange Stories). I really enjoyed the artwork as much as the story, and the artwork must have added to its popularity.

The story was written by Pat Mills. This was at the height of the Misty era, so it’s not surprising it goes into a lot of themes that are strong, scary and dark: a cursed flag that can move on its own, exert influence evil influence over people and even glow in the dark when it’s aroused; a hate-crazed daughter out for revenge on her own mother; terrifying visions; inexplicable bouts of paralysis; threats of a terrible future ahead; a voodoo chief; the Undead (briefly); a man nearly sawing his hand off; and lots of blood. And ye Editor allowed it. The story would not be out of place in Misty. Could there be any other dark stuff Mills wrote into the story that ye Editor censored or diluted, which he did with a couple of completes Mills wrote for Misty?

The story certainly has a moral to be careful what you put on your bed, especially if you are warned there might be a history attached. The same thing happens in the Gypsy Rose story “Zebras of Zendobo“, where weird, terrifying things start to happen in a girl’s bedroom when she uses zebra skins as bedspreads despite warnings they come from sacred zebras her grandfather shot.

The way in which the flag carries out its curse certainly breaks the pattern we usually see in serials about cursed objects. Usually they force the protagonist to act nasty or commit acts she gets the blame for. Though both things happen in the story, the curse takes the unusual course of using time travel to bring in a hate-crazed girl from the future with an axe to grind against her own mother.

Julie’s hatred is arguably the most disturbing aspect of this story. Hate campaigns we have seen before in girls’ comics – but against your own mother? Or rather, the girl who will become your mother but for the moment is totally innocent of causing the accident. After all, it hasn’t happened yet in this time period. And just look at the things Julie does to Thursday and the hate-filled, gloating looks on her face. Even allowing for the flag having a hand in it…well, we know Thursday’s child has far to go, but in this case Thursday’s child goes too far!

The hate campaign goes against the usual pattern of the protagonist not realising the antagonist is campaigning against her. No, Julie makes no secret of the fact that she hates Thursday and is out to make her life a nightmare. It’s the reason why she’s doing that is part of the mystery that has to be solved, and girls just love mystery.

It’s also unusual in that Julie does turn out to have a reason to hate Thursday instead of being mistaken and getting things wrong, which is more usually the case. However, she has failed to consider that the accident caused by her mother’s carelessness has nothing to do with the 1979 Thursday. Therefore, like so many hate campaigners in girls’ serials, Julie is persecuting the wrong person, but in a different sense.

Moreover, Julie is so blinded by hate that she can’t see the flag is just using her for its own agenda. Sure, it’s helping her get revenge on Thursday, but what happens when it’s done with that? After all, Battanga said his curse would be on all descendants of the great-grandfather, and that includes Julie. We would not be surprised if the flag moved on to the rest of the family and Julie herself, and Julie finally realising what a Pandora’s Box she’s unleashed.

Despite herself, Julie adds odd bits of humour to the story, most of which stem from her landing in a time period years before her own. For example, when she sees Thursday’s Star Wars poster, she snorts at how out of date it is. She is also a bit put out to find she can only find BBC1 and BBC2 on television and asks whether they’ve invented BBC3 yet. But she’s not developed as a fish out of water.

The story also touches on the ramifications of the Butterfly Effect: change one thing and you change everything. It doesn’t delve into the Butterfly Effect except try to prevent Julie’s accident in the future and Thursday try to tell Julie that her presence is interfering with continuity. But what else has been altered by destroying the flag in 1979 instead of letting it hang around until it is used for Julie’s bedspread? Not to mention letting Thursday know the events of the future: a daughter named Julie; her married name is going to be Kemp; she will carry on living in the same house as now and raise her own family there; and the accident she will try to prevent. We are left wondering and worrying what’s going to happen because Thursday knows all this when she shouldn’t have and could easily do other things to change the timeline (like not name a daughter Julie), but the story doesn’t go into it. Anyway, knowing girls’ comics, Thursday will go home to find everything as if Julie had never existed and nobody knowing who the hell Julie is. She will begin to think she probably dreamed it all or something…until she discovers something that suggests it did happen (like the flag missing) and now she doesn’t know what to think.

The Butterfly Effect stems from one event at the beginning of the story: Thursday deciding to use the flag as a bedspread instead of putting it away until 2000 as her mother directed. Now, what if Thursday had obeyed her mother and put the flag away until 2000? Apart from us not having a story that is. Was it the first step on the timeline that led to Julie’s accident because the flag still existed in her time? Yet in this timeline Thursday puts the flag on her bed, which sets in motion the events in the story and the destruction of the flag in 1979, and therefore it will no longer exist in the time period Julie came from. This has us wondering if the flag sent Julie on the wrong timeline and she ended up in (to her) a parallel universe, with a parallel world Thursday instead of the Thursday that will become her mother. If so, the irony is it led to the flag’s own destruction in 1979 and Julie persecuted the wrong Thursday altogether. Perhaps the flag confused things because in both timelines it was used for a bedspread, and in the same bedroom.

We also wonder how Julie will fare once she returns to the future. Knowing comic books, the timeline that led to her accident has been erased and she can still use her legs – but what timeline has taken its place? Julie is bound to return to an altered timeline, one where she could be a castaway in an alternate timeline she can’t change and is left reaping the consequences of her blind hatred. It might even be a timeline where she was never born. We have only Thursday’s feeling that everything will work out for them both to reassure us that the time meddling won’t mess things too much (like in Back to the Future). But if it’s been said once, it’s been said at least a thousand times: don’t meddle with the past.

As with another Pat Mills story, “Land of No Tears“, “Thursday’s Child” makes a point about disability and treatment of the disabled. But instead of decrying harsh attitudes towards disability as in “Land of No Tears” the story takes a few moments to comment on how patronising attitudes and treating disabled people as objects of sympathy do not help disabled people that much. This is one reason why Julie wants to show Thursday what being disabled is like. Curiously, both stories use time travel elements to make their respective statements about disability, yet they have disabled girls going in opposite directions: one travels from the 1970s travels to the future, the other travels from the future to the 1970s.

The Gypsy Gymnast (1974–75)

Sample Images

Gypsy Gymnast 1Gypsy Gymnast 2Gypsy Gymnast 3

Published: Tammy 14 December 1974 to 15 March 1975

Episodes: 14

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/Reprints: None known

Plot

Kim and Ann Rudge are fraternal twin sisters who are a complete contrast: Ann is studious and academically brilliant, while Kim is sporty and a brilliant gymnast. Ann gets jealous of Kim because she thinks Kim’s sportiness is making her the favourite daughter with their parents. She doesn’t listen to her parents assurances that they are just as proud of her. As the story develops, Ann’s increasingly sour attitude because of her jealousy and imagining her parents playing favourites leads to increasing tension in the household and even physical fights with Kim.

Kim is dissatisfied with her gymnastics training because the school coach does not really have the drive to bring out the best in them. Later, Kim and her friends are surprised to see a formidable old woman at Plotter Street Mansion giving a gypsy girl gymnastics training. (The spelling of the woman’s name is not consistent and she is by turn referred to as Mrs Speers, Mrs Spears, Miss Speers and Miss Spears, but we’ll stick to Mrs Speers.) Mrs Speers is a dragon and a hard case coach all right, but she brings out the best more than the school coach. When Mrs Speers sees them spying, she orders her goon Tug to set the dogs on them. Kim finds the whole thing pretty weird, especially as nobody was known to live at that place.

Kim does not realise the gypsy girl was really Ann in disguise. She is taking secret gymnastics lessons to prove herself to her parents and win as much respect as Kim.

As training progresses, Ann learns what a ruthless taskmaster Mrs Speers is. For example, when Ann sprains her ankle while training, Mrs Speers has it treated but shows no sympathy whatsoever and even says she never wants to see her again. But it turns out to be a test of determination and Ann passes it by going back to her to see if she can get lessons again. Mrs Speers also makes a huge deal out of keeping things absolutely secret and takes privacy to extremes of the fierce guard dogs. Ann suspects Mrs Speers has something to hide but does not pursue it.

A competition is coming up and Ann wants to enter so she can beat Kim, but Mrs Speers forbids it, saying Ann’s not ready. This has Ann going home in a huff, which leads to rows with her family and fights with Kim. Back at the mansion, Mrs Speers reveals she planned it that way all along: she is fanning the flames of resentment in Kim as part of her own ambitions.

Next day, Mrs Speers allows Ann to enter the competition after all, but she must win or she’s through with her. Kim’s friends don’t like the way Ann is bundled into Mrs Speers’ car and call the police. A general description alert goes out and Mum is notified, but the police don’t treat it all that seriously.

Ann beats Kim in the competition but is disqualified on a technicality because she has no birth certificate to prove her age, so Kim wins. Ann is puzzled as to why Mrs Speers didn’t think of that herself (more of her tactics, we suspect), but Mrs Speers is true to her word and says she’s through with Ann.

Of course Ann is crushed and disappointed, and this leads to a row in the car when Dad collects them. This gets Dad angry, which nearly results in an accident. Dad blows his top and shouts at Ann over it,  and she runs away in tears to Mrs Speers. Mrs Speers agrees to let her stay over.

Then Ann finds old newspaper clippings and discovers Mrs Speers’ secret: in her youth Mrs Speers was a top gymnast and won medals, but then she started using her gymnastics skills for crime and she has a criminal record. Tug was all part of it too and proud of it. They intend Ann to do the same, and that was what Mrs Speers was training her up for all along. They now hold Ann prisoner in the mansion. Meanwhile, Ann’s family report her missing and soon discover she has been kidnapped somehow.

To get Ann to comply, Mrs Speers and Tug threaten her family, and keep her locked up without food unless she trains. She has to sleep in the day and train by night. Then Ann sees a television broadcast where Ann disowns her in a television interview. She doesn’t realise Mrs Speers forced Kim to do it. As Mrs Speers planned, this embitters Ann, and she is willing to vent her hatred against the world as a willing accomplice for Mrs Speers.

Mrs Speers’ blackmail of Kim continues at a competition where she competes against Ann, who is in the gypsy disguise once more. Kim is forced to duck out and let Ann win. This time Kim does see through the gypsy disguise, but again she is forced to pretend to disown Ann, which further embitters her. Ann begins to tread down a genuine crime mindset of crime and even thinks Mrs Speers genuinely has her interests at heart. She now commits one robbery.

Satisfied Ann is now a willing accomplice, Mrs Speers eases her restrictions and gives her a reward: a beautiful room. But when Ann finds the windows sealed, she realises she is still a prisoner. She begins to have second thoughts about everything, see through Mrs Speers’ tactics, and suspect Kim’s conduct is forced. Sensing this, Mrs Speers blackmails Kim into pulling the same trick again. This time it’s in a face-to-face meeting between Ann and Kim, where Kim is forced to lead Ann to believe she blinded her in that road accident. Ann falls for it although she saw nothing wrong with Kim’s sight on TV or at the gymnastics competition.

It doesn’t quite work out as Mrs Speers planned though – Ann runs back to her in tears all right – but she refuses to have anything to do with her crimes. So Mrs Speers has Tug spirit Kim away to a hidey-hole in the countryside. But the police have been watching them since the robbery and they are soon arrested. Ann is happily reunited with her family and she sets out to become a top gymnast alongside her sister, but this time as herself.

Thoughts

In between the first Bella Barlow story (1974) and the second (1975) was this little-known John Armstrong gymnastics story to show that gymnastics in Tammy wasn’t all about Bella. The letters page was indicating popular demand for the return of Bella, and it could be “The Gypsy Gymnast” was riding on the wave of it. And take a close look at the poster on the left in Kim’s room, in panel 1, page 3, episode 1 (above). Is that Bella Barlow we see in that poster? The resemblance sure is striking. Did John Armstrong sneak her in there? Moreover, when the story finished, it was replaced by Bella herself. Coincidence or what? At any rate, “The Gypsy Gymnast” must have whetted readers’ appetites for more Bella.

The story does have its weaknesses, and among them: First, how exactly Ann met Mrs Speers or started the gypsy disguise is not explained or shown; Ann only says she met Mrs Speers by “sheer chance”. Second, Kim doesn’t even recognise her own sister in that gypsy disguise (until near the end of the story); it seems all Ann has to do is put on the gypsy headscarf while wearing a leotard and not even Kim realises who she’s competing against. Shades of Clark Kent! Third, what name is Ann using as a gypsy if she doesn’t want to be recognised as one of the Rudge sisters? Fourth, in the early episodes Ann wears that gypsy costume while training with Mrs Speers (later she wears a leotard but retains the headscarf). We have to wonder how on earth she can do gymnastics in that skirt. We’re just waiting to see it trip her up on that beam.

On the strengths, we have a very cunning woman who is trying to lure a girl away for her own gain. We have seen this in other stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives” (Jinty) and “Swimmer Slave of Mrs Squall” (Tammy). In those cases the women were mentally disturbed, while Mrs Speers is a criminal who intends to snare Ann, little by little, until Ann is ready to carry on Mrs Speers’ legacy of crime. But Mrs Speers works in the same way as these mentally ill ladies: taking advantage of problem girls, gradually luring them away and holding them in their homes, using promises that only they can give them what’s lacking in their life, whether it’s riches or respect from their families.

Mrs Speers’ tactics are all the more clever by the fact that just what she is doing with Ann is not all that obvious at first. Only tiny things are allowed to filter through and make us suspicious. For example, it’s pretty weird, the way Mrs Speers keeps herself isolated in the mansion, is so insistent on privacy, keeps those guard dogs, and that Tug looks a real thug. Anyone with sense would keep well away from all that. Little by little, it is revealed Mrs Speers is playing games and tactics with Ann for her own ambitions, but for what purpose? Is it to strengthen Ann as a gymnast or is Mrs Speers up to something?

We certainly don’t like Mrs Speers’ hard training tactics although they are more effective than the school coach. Her methods aren’t as extreme, bizarre or cruel as some coaches in girls’ serials e.g. Tammy’s “The Chain Gang Champions”. But they are still relentless and show little sign of mercy. If Mrs Speers had a heart somewhere under all that hard exterior it could ultimately turn out well in the end. However, the story keeps giving us clear hints that she does not. This can only mean her training methods will ultimately lead to serious consequences for Ann.

When Mrs Speers’ true motives are revealed, it’s not all that easy for Ann to get away from her, and it’s not just the locked rooms. Mrs Speers is keeping Ann close to her psychologically with cunning head games to turn Ann into a criminal. It’s made all the easier by Ann being terrified, confused and mentally vulnerable, and being mistreated makes her even more so. Ann gets several opportunity to escape but she does not take them, which shows how much she is succumbing to Mrs Speers and unable to think straight. We get hints of possible Stockholm Syndrome kicking in as Ann is tricked into turning against her family and the world and genuinely begins to think Mrs Speers is the only one who cares about her. She begins to give way to the dark side, as we see when she enjoys committing the robbery, but then she begins to wise up to Mrs Speers.

The mess Ann gets herself into all begins with her feeling Kim is the favourite with the parents because Kim is sporty but she isn’t. “Favourites” leading to family problems and driving the protagonist to prove herself have appeared in many serials. In this case, though, it looks like Ann is only imagining it. She does not realise that it’s not favouritism that’s making her home life unhappy – it’s her sour, jealous attitude. It is this attitude that leaves her wide open to get into the clutches Mrs Speers. Yet despite herself, Mrs Speers does help to sort out Ann’s problems and start her on the road to top gymnastics.

The story wastes no opportunity to comment on the prejudice and stereotyping against gypsies, which Tammy has done in other serials, such as “Eva’s Evil Eye”. Ann finds the gypsy disguise is making her a target of prejudice. For example, at the competition she was disqualified from, people automatically assume she was disqualified because she was cheating, just because she’s a gypsy. All the more reason to shed that gypsy gear in the end, but Ann must have had a whole new appreciation for how real gypsies must suffer from discrimination after this.

Their Darling Daughter (1983)

Sample Images

Their Darling Daughter 1Their Darling Daughter 2Their Darling Daughter 3

Published: Princess (second series), #1, 24 September 1983 to #6, 29 October 1983

Episodes: 6

Artist: Bert Hill

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: ‘Dat kind hoort hier niet!’ [That child does not belong here!] Tina 42, 1984. https://www.catawiki.nl/catalogus/strips/series-helden/dat-kind-hoort-hier-niet/77184-1984-nummer-42

Plot

Lord and Lady Towne lost their daughter Rachel a year ago and still mourn her intensely. While they are still in mourning, they foster Sylvie from a children’s home. There is something puzzling as to how they came across Sylvie in the first place or why they are so interested in her. It’s not shown or explained at the beginning.

Sylvie feels out of sorts at her new home as it’s such a big jump from a children’s home to an aristocratic mansion and all the rules of deportment that go with it. She thinks she can’t live up to the pedigree or to Rachel who, from the sound of it, was brilliant at everything, and everyone still grieves for her. Nowhere is this reflected more than in Rachel’s room: everything is laid out as if she had just popped out for five minutes, and is obviously intended to be a shrine. Clearly, it is not going to be easy to fit into her new home. At least Rachel’s dog Ben takes an instant liking to Sylvie and becomes her friend, so there’s solace in that.

But Sylvie soon finds her real problem in her new home is Mrs Crooks, the housekeeper. Mrs Crooks took the loss of Rachel very hard as she worshipped the girl. On Sylvie’s first night in the mansion, Mrs Crooks scares Sylvie by saying she’s not going to take Rachel’s place and makes it plain she wants Sylvie out.

However, next day, Mrs Crooks is all sweetness and light and apologises to Sylvie. She didn’t mean it; it was just the grief, and she is willing to be friends. Sylvie accepts this explanation and offer of friendship, and even buys a present for Mrs Crooks.

But it soon becomes obvious that Mrs Crooks is just pretending to be nice to Sylvie in order to play tricks to get rid of her. She tricks Sylvie into selling porcelain dogs at a bric-a-brac shop to raise money for Lady Towne’s birthday present; when Lady Towne notices they are missing she is upset because they were a birthday present from Rachel. At the birthday party, Mrs Crooks tricks Sylvie into wearing the dress Rachel wore when she died. When Lady Towne sees this, she faints in shock. The party is ruined and Sylvie is sent packing from the party.

Of course this has Sylvie realise Mrs Crooks’ game. But she can’t convince her foster parents because Mrs Crooks is now poisoning them against her and leading them to think she is a dishonest, disturbed problem child. They become even more convinced of this when they find the porcelain dogs in the shop and think Sylvie stole them for the birthday present.

Meanwhile, we’ve been getting hints that Mrs Crooks’ husband (the chauffeur) knows what his wife is up to and does not approve. However, every time he protests or wants to speak out she shuts him up. In one exchange, she says they will go to prison if the Townes find out the truth. Prison? Come on, the punishment for this wouldn’t be worse than the sack, would it? What’s the old bat on about? As it is, Sylvie’s only friend and helper right now is the dog Ben.

Sylvie tries to escape the situation by packing her bags and going back to the home, but the Townes have none of it. So Mrs Crooks tries again by making it look like Sylvie wrecked Rachel’s room. However, Sylvie and Ben manage to foil that that one by tidying it up in time, which has Mrs Crooks looking a fool in front of her employers.

However, Mrs Crooks is so angry at this that she brings out her big guns and makes threats that have Sylvie really scared. What’s more, the Townes are going to leave Sylvie alone with Mrs Crooks for the weekend. This has Sylvie well and truly terrified, especially when Mrs Crooks whispers that this weekend will be her last. Sylvie suspects Mrs Crooks is crazy and capable of doing anything to her. But the Townes won’t listen to her pleas not to leave her alone with Mrs Crooks.

Then Ben leads Sylvie to Rachel’s grave, where she overhears Mrs Crooks reveal something extraordinary: Rachel was actually Mrs Crooks’ daughter and the Townes’ “real daughter [Sylvie] is here”, and Mrs Crooks vows she won’t let Sylvie take Rachel’s place.

Mrs Crooks detects Sylvie’s presence, realises she overheard, and catches her. She drags Sylvie to the house and ties her up while explaining that she switched Sylvie and Rachel in the hospital when they were born so her daughter would grow up privileged. She put Sylvie in the orphanage and became housekeeper to the Townes so she could watch Rachel grow up while being near her. Now she’s going to kill Sylvie to be rid of her and make it look like an accident. Sylvie’s worst fears about Mrs Crooks are confirmed.

Meanwhile, Ben runs for help. Fortunately the Townes’ car has not got far because Mr Crooks was stalling while trying to work up the courage to tell the truth. When Ben arrives, they realise something is wrong and head back. Mr Crooks tells them what’s going on, adding that he was behind their meeting Sylvie (with an anonymous letter about her while not revealing her true identity). He had never endorsed what his wife did and was trying to put it right discreetly. Lord Towne comments that this was why he felt an immediate bond with Sylvie when he met her.

When Mrs Crooks sees them return she realises her husband has spilled the beans. There have been hints throughout the story that her sanity was questionable, and being discovered pushes her over the edge. She heads to Rachel’s room, intending to burn down the house with herself and Sylvie in it.

The Townes and Mr Crooks rescue Sylvie. They drag Mrs Crooks – whom they find cradling Rachel’s doll in the burning room and singing “rock-a-bye baby” – kicking and screaming from the house. The fire is brought under control and the authorities take charge of the Crookses. Mrs Crooks is placed in psychiatric care and Mr Crooks will probably get a short jail sentence (suspended, we hope).

Sylvie takes her rightful place with the Townes and calls them Mum and Dad for the first time. But Rachel’s memory will always be cherished.

Thoughts

Stories about spiteful antagonists playing tricks to get rid of a cousin/foster child were very commonplace at DCT; seldom did a few weeks go by without a DCT title starting one. However, for some reason the theme was far less common at IPC, which makes this story unusual for having it.

The story also breaks with the formula in several ways, which makes it even more unusual. First, the schemer is a creepy housekeeper; more often it’s a stepsister, foster sister or cousin. Second, the victim is warned right from the beginning that she’s got an enemy because the enemy tells her so herself. More often, the schemer works secretly so the protagonist doesn’t realise what’s going on and can’t understand why things keep going wrong for her and she gets in so much trouble. Third, the protagonist has a helper and even someone who knows what is going on but is having difficulty speaking out. More usually the protagonist is pretty much on her own, and if she does gets help it’s someone who has somehow become suspicious.

From the beginning we’ve been led to believe it’s misguided loyalty and grief for Rachel that’s driving Mrs Crooks to scheme against Sylvie. This could give us a measure of sympathy and understanding for her. If so, that fast evaporates once the baby switch and the real reason for Mrs Crooks’ hatred are revealed.

Having it turn out everything’s because Sylvie threatens Mrs Crooks’ deception in switching her and Rachel at birth is a flabbergasting surprise and twist to the story. However, the baby switch sounds a bit too Dickensian. The story would have gotten away with this more if it had a period setting. And so would have Mrs Crooks. We are finding it hard to believe Mrs Crooks managed to pull off the switch in modern times, especially when she herself says she and Lady Towne were in different parts of the hospital and Lady Towne was in a private suite. And what about the name tags on the babies? It is highly unlikely Mrs Crooks could have made the switch before the tags were put on.

The twist also has us question the wisdom of Mr Crooks in sending the Townes the letter. Sure, we can understand his desire to put things right somehow. But he must have known what his wife’s reaction would be, which would have exposed Sylvie to serious trouble. What was he planning to do about that? He doesn’t do anything more than make token protests at his wife, clearly because she dominates him. We don’t see him trying to stop her or help Sylvie until the end of the story.

The story only lasts six episodes, which was common for Princess II stories. But frankly, it could have done with more episodes, which would have been the case if it had appeared in, say, Mandy. For example, the first episode could have been used to fully develop the anonymous letter and how it leads to the Townes meeting Sylvie. Moreover, the anonymous letter would have added a mystery element to the story that would have piqued readers’ interest. Instead, it’s all mentioned in the final episode and readers are left thinking, “what anonymous letter?” The letter was never mentioned or shown in the story before, so the belated mention of it comes across as annoying.

The choice of villain for the schemer gives the story an edge of creepiness and terror that you don’t normally get in schemer stories, and this makes the story even more exciting. Usually the schemer is despicable and nasty but not frightening. And the warning signs that Mrs Crooks is going insane add an extra element of dread for Sylvie because what comes next could be anything – even murder.

We get some nice Bert Hill artwork in this story. Hill was a regular artist at DCT, working for many years on all three of its biggest girls’ titles. However, it is unusual to see his artwork at IPC. The only other known sample of Bert Hill IPC artwork is “Porridge Pulls His Weight” (Tammy, 3 September 1983), which, incidentally, was his only known credited piece of work.

 

Hangman’s Alley [1979]

Sample Images

Hangmans Alley 1Hangmans Alley 2Hangmans Alley 3Hangmans Alley 4

Published: Misty #86, 29 September 1979 – #90, 27 October 1979

Episodes: 5

Artist: Jesus Redondo

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Best of Misty #5

Plot

Mel and Jacey Coombs and their mother move into an apartment above an old alley. It used to be called Hangman’s Alley because condemned criminals were taken through this alleyway from the gaol on the marsh to execution on Gallows Hill. Mum tries to hide this grim past from her daughters, but it’s no use. Their arrival has stirred up the ghosts – literally. The ghost of a servant girl who was wrongly executed returns from beyond the grave when the family move in, and she is full of bitterness and hatred. She is taking out her hatred on Mel, for no other reason than Mel is a dead ringer for her. She almost attacks Mel in the bedroom, and later she lures Mel onto a bridge in a trance and tries to throw her off.

Jacey, the only one who can sense or see the ghost, discovers what the ghost is trying to do, and confronts the ghost in a bid to save Mel. The ghost informs Jacey, through a series of visions, that she was wrongly executed for stealing a pearl necklace from her mistress. The evidence against her was extremely flimsy. She was cleaning her mistress’s jewellery and another servant saw her admiring the pearl necklace while doing so. On this alone, everyone just assumed she stole the necklace when the mistress found it missing later on. She was dragged to the gallows protesting her innocence, but in vain; angry people were yelling for her execution on all sides. Jacey strikes a deal with the ghost: she will clear the ghost’s name if the ghost will leave Mel alone.

Having read up the history of Hangman’s Alley, Jacey knows where to find the old gaol. At the gaol the ghost directs her to her name, which she gouged into the wall: Melinda Walpole. At least Jacey now knows the ghost’s name. However, Jacey is caught for trespass and gets into big trouble with Mum, especially as she skipped school to go there in the first place.

Unfortunately Jacey’s investigation is making slow progress. The ghost is getting impatient and her impatience is making her increasingly dangerous. The investigation is being further impeded by distractions the family unwittingly put up. The family host a housewarming party, but Jacey sees Melinda the ghost while doing preparations and realises Mel has gone. She finds Mel collapsed in the alley and a warning from Melinda written in cherryade on the wall, which Jacey realises is a warning it could be blood next time. The message reads, “Remember the promise or next time…”

Thinking Jacey is off colour, Mum sends her to the doctor, and the wait in reception is interminable. It’s another holdup on the investigation and more strain on Melinda’s patience. But at least Jacey gets another clue while waiting, in a magazine. It is an article on an old house, and one of the photos shows Melinda’s signature etched on the wall. So now Jacey has located the house Melinda worked in. It is now facing development while others want to preserve it.

Jacey goes to the house and heads for the old servants’ quarters to find the etching. Mel follows, and Jacey tells her she’s playing grand lady to cover up what she is really doing. Hearing this, Melinda thinks she has been mucked around long enough. Her patience snaps, and she locks them in the old servants’ quarters and sets the house on fire. While fighting their way out, a wall partition gives way and Jacey finds an old box hidden in there. They make their way out safely and a huge crowd gathers. Among them is a reporter hoping for a story that will help save the house.

He gets it when Jacey opens the box. It contains the stolen necklace and a written confession from the thief (whose identity is not revealed). She had contracted smallpox from the crowd while watching Melinda being executed. She was left to die in the attic, but before she did she wrote the confession. She then put the necklace and confession in the box and hid it in the wall.

The publicity the confession creates in the press saves the house and it is converted into a museum. Jacey is given the necklace as a reward. Melinda, speaking for the very first time to Jacey, puts the necklace on Jacey herself, and says she can rest in peace now her name has been cleared.

Thoughts

Serials about servants being wrongly accused are commonplace in girls’ comics, and serials about wrongly accused servants coming back as ghosts are not unusual either. “Shivery Shirley” from Bunty and “The Sad Ghost” from June are examples of such ghosts. But this one is particularly morbid for several reasons.

First, the wrongly accused servant is actually executed instead of simply dying in miserable circumstances as her counterparts mentioned above do. And she was not merely dismissed, imprisoned or transported – she was executed.

Second, the ghost, while having a sympathetic backstory and situation, is not very sympathetic as a character. Instead of crying out for help she is extremely malevolent and the atmosphere her presence creates is described as “evil”. Her maliciousness may be the product of the bitterness over the injustice, but there is no apparent reason for why she is attacking Mel or why she is taking it all out on Mel. And she simply has no excuse for attacking Mel either, as Mel had nothing to do with the injustice. So why the hell is she doing it? At least with “The Shadow of Sherry Brown”, another malevolent ghost in Tammy, there was a psychology to her behaviour that we could understand and it made her haunting more realistic. In the case of Melinda Walpole there is none and we just don’t get it – why is she acting in that way to Mel?

Finally, the depiction of Hangman’s Alley and the executions are gruesome and atmospheric. The hatching, linework and inking of Jesus Redondo renders it all brilliantly. We hear references to criminals being taken to the “gibbet” and there “die horribly”. And the flashback of Melinda being dragged to execution gives the impression her execution was little more than a lynching.

The story is not long at five episodes. Considering Melinda’s conduct and the slowness of Jacey’s investigation, this probably is just as well, and it does make the plotting very tight. The danger of the ghost gives a sense of urgency to get things done fast but things are just moving too slowly, which makes it even more worrying for Jacey and more dramatic for us readers. However, the ending feels like it came a bit too soon, and the menace of Melinda was too short-lived.

At the end of the story it is not revealed who the thief really was when her confession is found. Was it the servant who saw Melinda admire the necklace or was it someone else? Not being told whodunit is infuriating. The ending would have been better if the identity of the thief had been revealed.