Tag Archives: psychic powers

The Haunting of Hazel [1975-1976]

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Published: 11 October 1975 – 24 January 1976

Episodes: 16

Artist: Santiago Hernandez

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Hazel en haar berggeest [Hazel and her Mountain Ghost] in Tina 1976/77, Tina Topstrip 27 (1981)

Plot

A group of girls are heading towards Black Crag Mountain for a course in mountaincraft and are looking towards a national championship. The group leader, Hazel Grenilda Williams, is being haunted by nightmares and feelings of foreboding. Rightly so, for the locals tell the girls that Black Crag has always had a reputation for being evil. Black Crag is said to be at its worst when it’s shrouded in mist, because that is when the evil really brews. Lately Black Crag has gotten worse, and is killing and maiming people. The locals live in dread of Black Crag and many have even been driven away. Hazel gets the same impression of the mountain when she sees it and is full of more foreboding and shivers. She feels Black Crag is like a great big beast waiting for prey. Yet she also has a fascination for Black Crag and feels drawn to it.

More mystery follows when Hazel finds a section of the guesthouse they are staying in, which is converted from an old school, has been sealed off and she is warned not to go beyond the locked door. A cleaner at the guesthouse, Annie, reacts strangely when she hears Hazel’s full name. Annie gets in a panic when a flock of crows mysteriously follow Hazel and her friend Gwen home, because the crows are Black Crag’s evil spirits and bring bad luck to the village. A letter from Hazel’s family arrives warning her not to go to Black Crag, but it’s come too late; Hazel’s already there.

Hazel has been having horrible feelings about Black Crag and now thinks they must be connected to psychic powers, which her family has a history of. She decides to investigate the locked door while having an odd feeling that she knows the place. Beyond the locked door Hazel and her group find a musty old library. In a book of old school records she finds a reference to another Grenilda. She is surprised as she thought nobody outside her family used the name. A page has been torn out just as it was about to record the details of Grenilda.

The group instructor, Miss Price, is injured when she falls through rotten floorboards in the library. She can’t join in the mountaincraft, which the girls start practising. However, rumblings are growing in the group that Hazel is not fit to lead. She has been acting out of character ever since they arrived, is letting that superstitious nonsense get to her, and is becoming irresponsible. The rumblings grow even more when Hazel goes off track during compass reading practice, which prompts a search.

Hazel went off track because her powers draw her to a new ally, Old Marnie the Witch. Old Marnie has psychic powers too and the locals call her a witch because of it. She tells Hazel Black Crag respects courage, so when she defied it, it left her alone. Hazel tells Old Marnie how Black Crag both terrifies and fascinates her and Old Marnie says it’s because they both have similar powers. Later Old Marnie tells Hazel that Black Crag acts the way it does because it has many enemies who misuse it. But if they befriend Black Crag, it can bring good instead of evil. Old Marnie had tried and failed and hopes Hazel will succeed.

A crow shows up again and it causes Hazel to stumble into a graveyard. One of the tombstones reads “Grenilda Williams”. And the tombstone is a new one! Hazel faints at the sight and Annie’s father, Albert Mann, sees her and carries her to the guesthouse. While she regains consciousness, she speaks in a strange manner. Mann is very surprised at this, because it is the old mountain dialect, which is supposed to be extinct. Miss Price informs Hazel that a trust was set up to renew that tombstone each year, which is why it was new. Grenilda is a local girl who died over 100 years ago in strange circumstances.

Hazel is also in further trouble because she left the girls on the mountain while going off after the tombstone. She and Mann go in search of the girls, and find them with the mysterious aid of the crows. After this, there is serious talk of cutting the mountaincraft course short because of Hazel.

Eventually Hazel is given another chance and they go climb Black Crag. No sinister happenings are occurring so far, but Hazel comes across evidence that someone is planting dynamite on Black Crag and it is causing explosions. If that is the case, Black Crag will surely cause even more trouble.

A violent thunderstorm forces the party to shelter in a hut. Hazel finds the name Grenilda Williams again. She senses Grenilda is haunting the place and Grenilda wants her to do something. Grenilda leads Hazel to a cupboard, where Hazel finds what looks like a Bible, a string of beads and a lock of hair. Later, Hazel finds writing at the front of the Bible that could be a clue, but it is very faded.

The party arrive back successfully and even save Old Charlie’s sheep, which they rounded up on the mountain. Charlie is grateful for this, but when he learns what Hazel has found in the hut, he warns her not to meddle. Mann seems oddly angry at Hazel saving the sheep. He then gives Hazel a telegram for Miss Price, which informs her that she must leave for a few days and leave Hazel on charge on her own.

Grenilda then summons Hazel back to the library, where Hazel finds Grenilda’s old diary. In it, Grenilda criticises the dangerous use of child labour in a silver mine on Black Crag. She speaks to the mine owner about it, but he just throws her out, saying they are the only ones small enough to go through the narrow shaft in the heart of Black Crag. Black Crag tells her such exploitation will end in disaster. Sure enough, a violent thunderstorm causes a cave-in, and Grenilda says it is the mountain’s curse on the exploitation. Children are still trapped down there; Grenilda is the only one thin enough to go down the shaft, and she feels Black Crag wants her to do it. A newspaper clipping says she rescued them, but she died doing so. The remorseful mine owner set up the trust to renew her tombstone each year.

Just then Steffie from the mountaincraft party decides Hazel deserves a little scare. But Hazel is such a bag of nerves from the haunting that the fright makes her go absolutely crazy with fright and she runs off. She finds herself back at Grenilda’s grave, and the ghost warns her that there is danger for her under the school roof and she is not to go back.

At this, Hazel drags the girls right out of the place and into camping in terrible weather on Black Crag. On the way they pass Annie, who says it’s the dark of the moon, when Black Crag is at its most dangerous, and she’s got a charm from Old Marnie to protect her. One of the girls breaks her leg and Hazel braves the mountain and terrible weather to get the doctor, with the aid of Grenilda. She succeeds, but the girls have had enough of her bizarre behaviour and send her to Coventry. The course continues without Hazel, but at least it gives her more time to pursue the mystery.

Grenilda is helping Hazel out while they do more investigating at the old school. She does not realise Mann is watching and does not like what she is doing. She learns Grenilda saved her brother from the mine, and he is Hazel’s ancestor. Now she realises why her parents wanted her to stay away from Black Crag and why the name Grenilda runs in her family.

Miss Price returns, and when she hears what has been going on she sends Hazel packing. Hazel isn’t having that, so she jumps off the train at the next stop and walks back, but finds the terrain unfamiliar and tough going. Grenilda brings help in the form of Old Marnie. They head for Grenilda’s old home on Black Crag. Old Marnie warns Black Crag is extremely disturbed and angry, and then Grenilda warns Hazel that something evil is approaching.

That evil turns out to be Mann and an accomplice. Hazel overhears Mann saying that he has been trying to scare those girls out of the school, presumably by having Annie winding them all up with scary stories about Black Crag. Once they are gone he does he will move on to the final part of the plan. But it isn’t just the girls he has been scaring; he has also been scaring the villagers into selling their land for a pittance because he wants to reopen the old silver mine. The men have been dynamiting their way through the blocked workings to reach the silver. Hazel now realises why Black Crag is angry. She heads off to tell Old Marnie and spread the word about Mann. On the way Hazel hears a terrible wailing, and Old Marnie tells her it is the Crying Stone, which only wails when something terrible is about to happen to the village.

Hazel then realises the girls are on Black Crag and in danger from a growing thunderstorm, so she must get to them. She makes a most dangerous short cut up a sheer rock face to do it, with Grenilda’s help. Hazel proceeds to get the girls off the mountain in the face of the bad weather. This is followed by dangerous landslides, which Hazel believes are the result of the angry mountain speaking out. Miss Price is so impressed with Hazel’s heroism she overlooks the previous trouble.

The landslides destroy Mann’s shop, and an inspector says the area can never be used for mining again because it is now too unstable. So Mann is now punished and his scheming foiled. Grenilda and Black Crag are now at peace, which means Hazel is too. Now Hazel is no longer haunted she can lead the mountaincraft group properly, and they intend to soar to greater heights in the mountaincraft national championship.

Thoughts

This is the only story Santiago Hernandez drew for Jinty (“Barracuda Bay” is now believed to be Hernandez artwork too, but the story is reprinted from June). Hernandez’s artwork is brilliant at bringing off the foreboding atmosphere of Black Crag, the horrors that constantly haunt Hazel, and the terrifying environments in which they erupt, whether it is the spooky old library or dreadful weather on Black Crag. Further adding to the creepy atmosphere is the rugged, rural environment of Black Crag and the peril that always accompanies mountain climbing, even on a normal mountain.

The real twist of the story is that the things that constantly terrify Hazel turn out not to be the true threat. They are not evil, just angry and disturbed, and it is eventually revealed they have good reason to be. Black Crag, which was initially portrayed as the evil of the story, turns out to be a helper. The real evil comes from Albert Mann, who is trying to scare off people (and is presumably responsible for all the killings and maimings that have been blamed on Black Crag) for his own profit. In so doing he is not only cheating people but also stirring up genuine supernatural forces that start affecting Hazel.

Hazel is the most susceptible to the supernatural forces because she has inherited the family’s psychic powers. But Hazel’s powers have awakened in a most disturbed manner and she cannot fully understand them. Fortunately she has guidance from Old Marnie, who is more experienced with such powers and can inform her about the correct way to handle Black Crag. Unfortunately, but understandably, the members of the mountain group Hazel leads think she’s just losing her marbles and shouldn’t be listening to such superstitious rubbish. In a sense they are right, because it turns out Mann is trying to scare them off and presumably put Annie up to winding them up with crazy, embroidered stories about Black Crag. Yet Hazel is right too, and being unable to find anyone to listen except Old Marnie and Grenilda almost wrecks her career.

One thing is puzzling: when the girls go mountain climbing, they never wear safety helmets. Were safety helmets not worn so much at the time, or is this an error in the story?

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Wenna the Witch (1974)

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Published:  10 August 1974 – 2 November 1974

Episodes: 13

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Wenna de heks [Wenna the Witch] in Tina 1976, Tina Topstrip 34, 1981; Greek translation in Manina; Indonesian translation Wenna, Si Penyihir [Wenna, the Witch] Tina TopStrip 34.

Plot

Wenna Evans (formerly Lomax) is the foster-daughter of the Evanses, who live in the Welsh village of Llarygg. It is a village where the locals still believe in witches. Still, that has never been a problem for Wenna. She has always seen herself as a girl like any other, and so do the villagers.

But all that changes when a stranger named Mr Burr arrives. He declares in public, right in front of the villagers, that he is looking for Wenna Evans because his research has uncovered that women in her Lomax ancestry were burned at the stake for witchcraft. (More likely they were victims of ignorance, superstition and persecution, probably because they possessed psychic powers of some sort.) Mr Burr thinks Wenna may have inherited the powers and asks her, right in front of everyone, whether she has ever noticed anything unusual about herself, particularly any “dark stirrings” or even visions? Now either this man has absolutely no tact or common sense, or he’s as ignorant and superstitious as the villagers themselves. Of course Wenna is absolutely outraged and yells at him to go away and not come back. As Mr Burr leaves he has a bad accident, and the villagers think Wenna put a curse on him.

So now the villagers think Wenna is a witch and the persecution begins. Her worst enemy is Blodwen Hughes, an expelled schoolgirl who has always been jealous of her. Blodwen’s job in a village shop is the perfect vantage point for her to spread the gossip about Wenna and fan the flames as much as she can. They get inflamed even more when Blodwen is taken ill and says Wenna put the evil eye on her.

Bad things happen one way or other and they are blamed on Wenna. Unfortunately some of them look a bit uncanny, such as when Wenna is surrounded by an angry mob while at the water pump and wishes for them to be swept away – and then jets of water shoot out of the pump, which drives them off. They all blame Wenna’s witchcraft, notwithstanding that their stone-throwing ruptured the pump in the first place.

There are actions Wenna takes that do not help matters. She borrows a book on witches to help her better understand what she is faced with. But when word leaks out it fuels the rumours against her. Wenna goes to the Gallows Hill, which is shunned and feared because it is said to have druid powers. She calls upon the ancient druids to grant her wish to make the villagers stop persecuting her. Unfortunately the villagers see her and accuse her of casting a spell that causes an accident.

At times Wenna herself wonders if she has powers, and there is evidence of it too. Mr Evans tells her that her ancestors were a strange lot and her mother was said to have second sight. Just before the encounter with Mr Burr Wenna had a vision of herself looking absolutely terrified. During the night she had a vision of Mr Burr’s operation and wished for his recovery – and next day she hears he had a miraculous recovery at the time when she wished for it. There are moments of anger where she wishes the villagers would be swept away or suffer in some other way. Then either something happens or she has visions of something happening, and she’s full of doubt about herself and wondering if the villagers are right after all.

Wenna has some friends, in the form of Myfanwy “Fan”, her dog Taffy (thank goodness Taffy isn’t a cat, or the villagers would persecute him as much as Wenna!), her foster parents, and Dr Glynn the village doctor who sticks up for her and chastises the villagers for their stupidity. As the persecution intensifies Wenna gets banned from school because parents won’t allow their children to attend while she’s there, and she gets shunned in the street, with doors slamming on her everywhere. Angry villagers tell Wenna’s foster parents to throw her out or suffer themselves, which forces Wenna to run off at one point. It escalates into a stone-throwing mob trying to drive her out of the village.

Meanwhile, there has been heavy rain that is showing no sign of abating.

The violence drives Wenna back to Gallows Hill, where she thinks she will be safe because the villagers are too scared of the place. She falls asleep and has an ominous dream of villagers being drowned in floodwaters from the heavy rain. Next day Fan comes to warn her that the villagers have guessed where she is and are coming after her, despite their dread of Gallows Hill. Wenna escapes by taking a tumble down a ravine called Devil’s Gullet, where she stows away aboard a truck. The villagers are baffled by her disappearance (for the time being).

The truck is going to the dam, which is in danger of bursting. Wenna overhears the engineers saying that if the dam breaks the water will flood Devil’s Gullet. They think the dam is holding – just – but when Wenna tries to cross the dam to get away from her enemies she discovers it is beginning to burst. She has more visions of the village flooding and villagers drowning in the floodwaters.

Wenna informs the engineers that the dam is bursting, and she decides to put aside all the things the villagers have done to her in order to help them. They all head to the village to warn the villagers. They pass by the witch-hunting villagers at Gallows Hill, who have now realised Wenna went down into Devil’s Gullet. The mob goes down after her, too crazed with witch-hunting fervour to heed the engineers’ warnings that the ravine is going to flood. Wenna goes down after them and, pretending to be a witch, scares them into going back up the hill and away from the floodwaters. Unfortunately she does not make it herself and the floodwaters carry her away.

Back on the hillside, the engineers tell the mob Wenna actually saved their lives by scaring them out of Devil’s Gullet, and it was Wenna who raised the alarm about the damburst. The engineers then do what they can to mitigate the flood damage to the village.

The villagers change their minds about Wenna when they learn how she helped save the village. They are stricken with remorse and think they have driven her to her death when they find her washed up in front of the village cross. However, Wenna is still alive and Fan says it is a miracle. When Wenna recovers, the villagers greet her with apologies, smiles and flowers. Even arch-enemy Blodwen has come around and says Wenna has powers to work small miracles. Wenna comes to accept that she may have inherited genuine powers from her Lomax ancestors, but everyone knows she will use them for good.

Thoughts

Lingering witch-beliefs in some rural areas of Britain have formed the basis for a number of girls’ serials where the protagonists are persecuted by villagers who still believe in witches. The formula was not used much, but some stories that had it include Mandy’s “Bad Luck Barbara” and Bunty’s “Witch!” Jinty ran two serials with the formula, the first being Wenna and the second being “Mark of the Witch!”.

Wenna is in line with the typical formula of the villagers believing the protagonist is a witch because of her alleged ancestry. How it starts is so astonishing as to be unbelievable. Nobody ever thought Wenna was a witch until Mr Burr comes barging into the village, tells people he has discovered she is descended from these executed Lomax witches, and then starts questioning Wenna right in front of everyone about what powers she has. What the hell was this man thinking? At best he’s incredibly stupid and tactless, not to mention rude, and deserves to get his face slapped. At worst he too is a witch believer who deliberately stirred things up against the girl he believed to be a witch. Whatever his motivation, the damage was done.

It is a common thread in the formula for odd things to happen to the protagonist (nightmares, visions, voices in the head, shouting at persecutors and then things happen to them) that have her wondering if she does indeed have strange powers. However, in Wenna it is more overt, such as her visions of villagers drowning. In similar serials, such as “Witch!”, these weird occurrences are usually kept more ambiguous in order to leave scope for readers to make up their own minds.

Wenna has more support than most of her counterparts do. Usually there is only one person who sticks by them, but they don’t always do so for the duration of the story as Fan does. Sometimes they abandon the protagonist and go over to the other side, as in the case of “Witch!”. However, in this case Fan not only sticks by Wenna but so do the foster parents, Taffy the dog, and the doctor.

The resolution of the story – the villagers change their minds about Wenna because of her heroism in the flood – ensures a happy ending, if not a realistic one. When witch-believers brand someone a witch the label sticks, if not extremely hard to remove, and casts a long shadow. For this reason the endings to “Bad Luck Barbara” and “Witch!”, are more realistic, where the protagonist leaves the village with the villagers still hating her.

Wenna is notable for two things. First, it was the first Jinty story drawn by Carlos Freixas. Two more Freixas stories followed: “Slave of the Mirror”, which replaced Wenna, and the best-remembered one, “The Valley of Shining Mist”. Second, it was the first Jinty story to have the protagonist narrate the story herself. The only other Jinty strip to do so was “Pam of Pond Hill”.

7 Steps to the Sisterhood (1978)

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Publication: 12 August 1978 – 30 September 1978

Artist: Ron Smith

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Kim Mason and Shelley Vernon are both on their way to Lansdale, a boarding school that specialises in foreign languages. Shelley is a bit nervous because she is a clumsy, accident-prone girl and is worried it will go against her at her new school.

Meanwhile, on the train, Kim overhears two staff members, Miss Tweed and Miss Frost, talking about them. Both of them are candidates for a special opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. But only one will be picked, so both will be watched carefully during the term. Kim is keeping this piece of information to herself…hmm, sounds like something for the reader to note as well.

When the girls arrive, Shelley is delighted that her room is next to Kim’s. She looks on Kim as a friend, even if Kim is acting a bit aloof. Meanwhile, Miss Tweed is unpacking priceless Thai costumes as background for an upcoming lecture.

Later, Shelley is surprised to see a note on her bed, from “The Sisterhood of Lansdale”. It claims to be a secret society that is considering her as a new member, but she must pass seven tests to qualify. She must not try to investigate the Sisterhood, ask help from anyone, or talk to anyone about the Sisterhood. If she agrees, she must tie a hanky to her bedroom door handle. Shelley jumps at it and ties the hanky to her door handle.

Someone takes the hanky, and next morning Shelley receives instructions for her first challenge: obtain a colour photograph of herself in one of the Thai costumes and leave it outside her door that night.

So Shelley borrows one of the costumes and sneaks out of school to use a photo kiosk to take the photograph. She does not know someone is watching her, and that person realises that Shelley is not solving the problem in the way she anticipated. When Shelley returns, someone throws water at her from a window, narrowly soaking her and the priceless costume. She has made it, but has to iron the costume to get rid of some damp spots. Miss Tweed catches her but thinks Shelley is just trying to help, and even allows Shelley to wear the costume at the display!

The second challenge is to bake a strawberry cake and leave it on the tack shelf in the stables on Friday night. Seems straightforward and harmless enough. Shelley even lets Major, a terror of a horse that only the headmistress can ride, have a few strawberries from the cake. But the third challenge is to ride Major bareback at dawn tomorrow!

Hoping that Major will return the strawberry favour, Shelley takes him out for the bareback ride. She sees a light flash back at the school and suspects the Sisterhood is watching her. Shelley gets caught by the headmistress and stable-hand. The head is astonished at what Shelley is trying to do – and bareback. But remembering daft things she did in her own youth, she decides to go along with it and help Shelley ride Major bareback. But Shelley does not get away with it altogether – she has to write a 500-word essay on horse riding in Spanish, which takes days! Meanwhile, someone in the shadows is watching. She thinks how lucky Shelley was that time, and if she’d had her way, things would have turned out differently. Now what can this mean?

The fourth challenge wants Shelley to take the new gold earrings belonging to an Indian student, Nirhani. She is to keep them until told what to do next. Shelley does not like the idea of stealing or risking trouble and is now having second thoughts about the Sisterhood itself. Shelley compromises by taking the jewel box, but not the earrings.

Then Nirhani comes up and says she found Shelley’s hanky (the one Shelley tied to her door handle) in her drawer. Shelley is now so thoroughly frightened by everything that she tells Nirhani (disregarding the conditions she agreed to). Nirhani, a long-standing student, says she has never heard of “The Sisterhood”. She also surmises that if Shelley really had taken the earrings, the theft reported, and then Shelley’s hanky found in the drawer – she would have been expelled. In other words, it was a set-up. Nirhani, who has second sight, gets psychic impressions that there is no “Sisterhood” at all – rather, Shelley has an enemy.

They start planning to catch the culprit. Shelley will pretend to steal the earrings, and Nirhani writes her a cover letter to say she lent them. They gamble that when Nirhani does not report the theft as the enemy expects, she will come into the open.

Another student, Fran, has a birthday and has been permitted to have a midnight BBQ. This brings in the fifth challenge – arrange a fireworks display as an extra surprise for the party. Fireworks are not available at that time of year, but then a book arrives with instructions on how to make your own. Shelley and Nirhani see the dangers at once, and realise the enemy must have as well. However, Shelley has to give the impression she is going along with it, so they use the instructions to make dummy fireworks filled with talcum powder. At the party they hide the fireworks in some bushes and take turns to keep an eye on it discreetly.

Before long, Nirhani sees someone try to light the fake fireworks – but then there are real ones as the BBQ suddenly goes up in flames. In the confusion and firefighting, Nirhani fails to get a look at the enemy. They are horrified when they realise what the enemy tried to do and get Shelley blamed for.

A note arrives from “The Sisterhood” telling Shelley to stay behind after the party – alone. She does, hoping to catch her enemy. A hooded figure appears, her voice disguised, and not allowing Shelley to get close. She tells Shelley she failed the fifth task (the fireworks did not go off as she planned) but Shelley manages to wriggle out of it with a cover story. Shelley tries to get closer as the girl begins to outline the sixth task: tomorrow she is to kidnap Nirhani and lock her in the hayloft in the stables. But just as Shelley is about to unmask the girl, Miss Tweed interrupts and the girl gets away.

Nirhani and Shelley realise what the enemy is up to: “find” Nirhani, be a big heroine, and get Shelley expelled. And Nirhani is getting premonitions of real danger if they go along with it in order to trap the enemy. This has them thinking of all the lucky escapes Shelley has had so far in avoiding serious accidents or being expelled because of all the traps the enemy has set for her.

In the end, Nirhani goes into the hayloft, with Shelley leaving a ladder outside for her to get out with. She then joins the others on a nature ramble. But the teacher drops a bombshell – the headmistress is getting the stable block fumigated! Shelley dashes off for the stables – and so is Kim. Seeing this, Shelley now realises that Kim is the enemy, not her friend. She also sees that the fumigators have moved the ladder, cutting off Nirhani’s escape, so she has to get the fumigators to rescue Nirhani.

Nirhani and Shelley confront Kim over her being the enemy. At first Kim almost gets out of it with a slick move – but then she makes the mistake of claiming that Shelley stole Nirhani’s earrings (she still thinks Shelley has retained them from the earlier challenge). Nirvana and Shelley then spring their long-waiting ace – Nirhani lent Shelley the earrings, and they have the note to prove it. Cornered, Kim confesses that she was trying to put Shelley out of the running for the opportunity of a lifetime that she learned about on the train.

Kim is expelled, of course. And it was all for nothing, because it turns out that Kim was not an ideal student for it after all. Moreover, there is now a chance for two students to win the opportunity, which is a world tour to publicise Lansdale’s methods. The head chooses Shelley and Nirhani because she has been so impressed over how they handled “The Secret Sisterhood”.

Thoughts

This is the first of only two stories that Ron Smith drew for Jinty. Smith was more frequent in Judge Dredd, so it is a delight to see him here.

A girl who causes trouble for another (motivated by revenge, personal gain, jealousy or just plain spite) is one of the oldest and most frequent formulas in girls’ comics. The DCT titles ran them so constantly that they must have run into the zillions. In Mandy alone, not many weeks went by without one such story, and Mandy’s cruellest example was probably The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina aka The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee. In Tammy and Jinty the formula appeared less frequently, which helped to keep it fresh.

In this version of the formula, we get a whole new take on the formula that is extremely rare, if not unique in its genre. Instead of pulling downright nasty tricks to sabotage the girl and get her into trouble, the troublemaker takes a far more insidious and convoluted approach – trying to get her into trouble with challenges from a non-existent secret society. This approach is extremely clever, not only on the part of the troublemaker but also the plotting. It is not so apparent straight away as to what is going on because the sabotage is being disguised as challenges, and it is more difficult for the reader to put the pieces together. Downright nasty tricks would have been a dead giveaway for the reader, and they would have known who it was and why immediately because it was all established in the first episode. Of course it all depends on Shelley rising to the bait in the first place – if she had decided against joining the society and not left her hanky on the door handle, the scheme would have been over for Kim immediately and she would have had to think of something else.

Girls’ comics have long made a strong comment on the dangers of secret societies, whether it is ones who issue challenges that are increasingly foolish and reckless, or are dark and bullying. This one is no exception – even if the society does turn out to be non-existent and it is all the work of one spiteful individual. Kim must be one of the most evil girls ever to appear in girls’ comics. Forget about trying to get Shelley expelled – Kim almost got Shelley (and others) hurt or even killed several times. She had no compunction about it whatsoever, though she must have been aware of what could happen with, say, letting off the boxful of fireworks near a crowd of people. Only at the end does she show any horror at her actions, when she realises that Nirhani could get killed because of her sixth challenge. And if that was the sixth challenge, what would the seventh have been like? The seventh step was never revealed, which must have had readers curious as to what it would have been.

This is one of the few stories in girls’ comics to have some ethnic characters. Though girls’ comics are not intentionally racist, there is a long-standing absenteeism of non-white girls in girls’ comics. Appearances of coloured or Asian girls are more the exception than the rule. But given that this is a language school, it is expected that there are girls of mixed races speaking diverse languages, and Jinty does deliver. Nirhani is Indian while Kim is part Chinese. It is interesting that both a heroine and the villain are of ethnic origin, and both are strong characters. Kim, the part Chinese, is a cold fish who is capable of just about anything to get rid of Shelley and seize the opportunity for herself. She is extremely clever and calculating, as shown in the way she is going about it – luring Shelley into trouble with a phoney secret society. Even the dress she always wears lends to her clinical nature, for it gives her an “evil scientist” look. By contrast, Nirhani the Indian girl is a warm and colourful character. Her second sight (which she handles with more success than 1977’s “Destiny Brown”) lends weight to the brains that figure out what is really going on. Nirhani is brilliant at working that part out, but we wonder if she really could have done it without her second sight.

“7 Steps to the Sisterhood” does seem to come across as a bit short-lived – only eight episodes. It could have been taken an episode or two more, if only to reveal the seventh challenge. Could it have been cut a bit short to make way for a new line-up of stories, and perhaps the seventh challenge cut off with it? Still, while it lasted, it was a whole new take on one of the most formulaic themes in girls’ comics.

 

Jassy’s Wand of Power (1976)

Sample images

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Jassy 2

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Jassy 3

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Publication: 2 October 1976 – 13 November 1976

Artist: Keith Robson

Writer: Unknown

Plot

In an future world (possibly alternate reality) of the 1980s, Britain has been in drought for seven years. It has now reached the point where people are desperate, starving and psychologically reverting to more savage levels. Refugees flock to the cities in search of food; when such people arrive at Fountain-le-Green, they are beaten off by armed parish council men led by Mr Danby, who don’t want outsiders getting their food. Jassy Hurst is more kind and gives the starving people what food she can spare, but this does not make her popular with the hard townsfolk who say she is throwing away food on “trash”.

Then Jassy accidentally finds she has a gift for water dowsing, apparently inherited from her grandfather, and is soon finding her own water sources. But people get suspicious when they see how lush her garden is and Jassy tells Danby her secret. But this puts her in great danger, because psychic people have been the targets of witch-hunting martial law state persecution ever since a man with second sight prophesied that there would be no rain for many years.

Danby and his council blackmail Jassy into finding water for them. Unknown to her, they are also extorting payments from people in exchange for her services and making a profit. When Jassy finds out, she runs off and finds a power plant run by Sir Harmer Jeffreys. Sir Harmer takes her prisoner. He has heard stories of what Danby has been up to with Jassy and soon realises who she is. He explains that the drought is crippling his power plant and wants Jassy to find water for him. He assures Jassy that he will share whatever water she finds with the villagers and not take it all for himself. But his word is doubtful as he looks a real villain.

Sure enough, Sir Harmer is soon exploiting Jassy’s water dowsing powers as much as Danby did. It takes the form of a false religion, with Jassy blackmailed into being set up as a water goddess who can work miracles. Worse, it practises human sacrifice, with a blind boy named Mark being used as the sacrifice.

Jassy does not realise the real reason for the sacrifice: Mark has his own psychic powers that threaten Sir Harmer. While bouncing a ball he sings:

“Bouncing high, bouncing low, I’m the only one to know. Never, never shall it rain while the power plant shall remain.”

Jassy beats Sir Harmer at his own game by feigning the divine will of the goddess that Mark become a servant to her priestess. Sir Harmer is forced to agree to having Mark at the posh apartments he has set up for Jassy. But he is worried as he would be in serious trouble if people catch on to what Mark was singing.

Mark’s ball has been confiscated and he can only sing his psychic songs when he has the ball. It is found and Mark sings his song again. Jassy realises what it means – the chemicals from the new process at Sir Harmer’s plant are causing the drought. They must escape and warn the government. They do so by distracting the guards with a fire and with the guidance of Mark’s powers.

They are taken in by a kindly couple, Mr and Mrs Blake who know all about how villainous Sir Harmer is. They say he is also one of the richest men in England who will be building more of his power stations across the world – which will mean a world-wide drought. Jassy  tells them that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought and what they are trying to do. Jassy also decides to track down other dowsers in hiding and rally them into a force for the government to take notice of, and this is soon getting results. But of course Sir Harmer is trying to hunt them down.

Soon the children experience another danger – a wandering lion. But it turns out the lion belongs to one Lord Merrow, who used to have a safari park before the drought. Lord Merrow takes them in. Upon hearing their story, he uses what petrol he has to get them on their way, and then faces up to Sir Harmer’s men who are in hot pursuit. They end up shooting Lord Merrow and his lion.

The children are captured by a bounty hunter who is after Sir Harmer’s reward. A policeman spots them and tries to stop what looks like an attempted kidnapping. But upon hearing the children have psychic powers, the policeman has the children brought to the Tower of London where other psychics are imprisoned. The bounty hunter informs Sir Harmer that the children have been taken care of.

Jassy continuously makes warnings that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought, and people begin to take notice. Sir Harmer hears of this and orders that the children be brought to him. But the rumours about Jassy and the plant have spread far enough for an angry mob to attack Downing Street, demanding water and that the Prime Minister release the children. The Prime Minister agrees to Jassy being brought to him.

In the Tower, Mark sings another song that hints that courage will win through. So when the guards come, Jassy insists that Mark come too. When they arrive, Sir Harmer tries to shoot Jassy while she tries to tell the mob outside the truth. Mark stops Sir Harmer and he is taken into custody. Jassy tells the crowd that she has found water dowsers all over the country who can help them find water, including the people imprisoned in the Tower. The Prime Minister has the psychics released from the Tower and shuts the plant down. The water dowsers help find water until rain finally falls, which it does three months after the closure of the plant. Jassy can now put away her wand of power.

Thoughts

In 1976 Jinty ran “Fran of the Floods“, a story on environmental extremes; in that case, extreme flooding. In this story, in the same year, the pendulum swings to the other extreme with drought. Is it coincidence or did Jinty really intend to explore two diametrically opposed forms of environmental extremes? At any rate, this story could be considered as anticipatory as “Fran of the Floods”, which anticipated global warming. In a world where droughts are an increasing problem because of climate change and water supplies are beginning to deplete, Jassy could be considered another Jinty story ahead of its time.

But while Fran of the Floods dealt with natural environmental disaster, this is a man-made one in the form of Sir Harmer’s power plant releasing chemicals that are causing drought. Echoes of the same theme can be seen in Jinty’s 1978 story “The Birds“, where chemicals released from a new plant cause birds to go crazy and attack people.

It is a bit confusing as to how or why Sir Harmer was causing the very same drought that was also crippling his power plant through lack of water. Did he not realise what his chemicals were doing, or did he ignore or disbelieve warnings as to what the chemicals would do?  Or did he know it all along and was just using it to jack up prices for his electricity and make even more money? Any of these are possible and would accommodate what would be a plot hole. What is less accommodating is why everyone was saying it was a “new” process that was causing the drought when the drought had been in effect for seven years – hardly a “new” thing. Did the plant perhaps exacerbate what was already an existing drought?

However it started, we can sure see the effects the drought is having on society. People are not only getting desperate, even savage in the face of food and water shortages, but those fascist-style uniforms the state police wear indicate that the drought has swung Britain in the direction of a totalitarian state. A state with hints of the old Nazi Germany, which is even more disturbing. Exactly how far it goes is not clear, but it is psychic people who are taking the brunt; a twist on the witch-hunting theme that appears in many serials such as “Mark of the Witch!” But instead of being persecuted by witch-hunting mobs and burned at the stake they are taken away Gestapo-style. And it’s all just because one psychic predicted the drought. A take on the old scapegoating trick? Or, if this is an alternate universe, is it an indication of superstitious attitudes that this society has? The false religion that Sir Harmer tries to set up with Jassy does point to this. People are so willing to fall for her being a miracle goddess. Has desperation driven people to extra gullibility and vulnerability, or is it also because they live in a more superstitious Britain than ours?

Keith Robson’s artwork does a brilliant job of bringing out the harshness, desperation and primal instincts that are coming out of people in the face of the droughts with the visceral quality to his heavy lines, inking and cross-hatching. His depiction of the hard, ruthless Danby men, for example gives them a near-grotesque appearance in their swarthy, thuggish looks. And Sir Harmer looks like he has fangs when he gets angry!

Jassy herself starts as an oasis of kindness (not unusual in girls’ strips) in a world where most people in her village are losing their humanity and despise her for giving food to refugees. And is that peace badge she wears on her right knee a coincidence or a symbol of how much she sets herself apart with her kindness? This alone has set her apart from her harsh society, but she becomes well and truly a victim when she discovers her special power. Worse, it makes her vulnerable not only to state oppression but to exploitation by money-grabbing men like Danby and Sir Harmer who see her power for what it is worth in this drought-stricken society.

It is no surprise that Jassy becomes a crusader and rebel out to change things in her oppressive society either. It takes the revelation of Mark, another psychic, that the plant is causing the drought, to turn her into one. But once it starts, she is quite revolutionary about it, in her campaign to rouse other psychics in hiding into rebellion. Perhaps this could have done with more development and treatment; it feels that the ending comes a bit too soon and was rushed. The psychic rebellion was an aspect that could easily have been developed more and taken an even bigger hand with the conclusion.

Although Jassy’s Wand of Power is not one of Jinty’s best remembered stories, it is still an intriguing story that is filled with elements that would disturb readers more than usual. Armed thugs ready to drive off people who are desperate for food? A false religion that practises human sacrifice? Fascist-style state police in Britain rounding people up? A man shot in cold blood for trying to save the children? It would certainly give readers the shudders. Its strongest point of all is the environmental aspect and the damage mankind is doing to the Earth. And considering the global-warming world we live in, that point would be felt even more strongly than when it came out in 1976.