Tag Archives: revenge

Always a Prisoner [1981]

Commando cover

Published: Commando #1502, 1981

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover), Alejandro Martinez Ruiz (story)

Writer: Bill Fear

Reprint: Commando #2828, 1995

Plot

Harry Dane’s lot always seems to be brutal imprisonment, with him shoving his fist at it whenever he can. Harry begins to go this way in 1935, when desperation makes his friend Ted Taplow steal £15 from work to pay off a gambling debt while knocking out the elderly cashier in the process. But when the alarm is raised and police are searching all the men, Taplow panics and plants the money on Harry to save himself. Harry and his protests of innocence do not have a chance in court, not least because he cannot understand how it happened.

Prisoner

Harry spends five years in “one of the hardest, grimmest prisons in England”, and the prisoners’ lot is harsh, backbreaking quarry work. While in prison, Harry’s cellmate, “The Prof”, helps him to figure out Taplow framed him. From then on Harry is fuelled by a near-monomaniacal determination to make Taplow pay, which helps him to survive. However, it also drives him into an escape bid that fails, and because of it he has to serve his full sentence before he can confront Taplow.

When Harry is released in 1940, it is World War II. He finds Taplow has gone into the army and his battalion is stationed at Hong Kong. He joins Taplow’s regiment in the hope of tracking down Taplow, and his brutal prison experiences help him adapt quickly to basic training and army discipline. He also fends off bullies who pick on a weedy cadet, Archie Duckfield, and he and Archie become friends. Harry’s battalion does meet up with Taplow’s in Hong Kong, and he finally finds Taplow (now an NCO). He then proceeds to give Taplow a revenge punch in the face.

Inevitably, this gets Harry court martialled, and he is sentenced to 12 months. The guards hate Harry for striking out at an NCO, so they go out of their way to break him, with little regard as to how they do it. Harry responds with thoughts and threats of punching them, and he has plenty of experience in handling prison brutality. Fortunately for Harry, Japan begins to attack Hong Kong, and all the soldiers in the detention barracks are released to join the fight.

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So now it is Archie and Harry’s first action, which goes badly, and Hong Kong falls. They are forced to retreat, and in the end the Japanese capture them. Now Harry faces a whole new brutal imprisonment, in the form of a Japanese POW camp and all the conditions Japanese POW camps are infamous for. But this time there is a consolation: Taplow has been captured too and is now a fellow prisoner, right alongside Harry!

When Archie hears about Taplow’s frameup of Harry, he points out something Harry had not thought of: get a confession out of Taplow to clear him. But although Taplow’s guilt is obvious from his body language, Taplow makes it obvious that he will not be easily persuaded to confess. Rather, Taplow is desperate to get away from Harry as much as the prison camp. He breaks out with several others, but the Japanese guards catch up and slaughter all but Taplow. He is brought back to the camp and sentenced to death. Archie and Harry save Taplow because they want that confession, but the ungracious Taplow refuses to give it. All they can do is hide Taplow in the roll call under the alias of Dyson and keep a close eye on him.

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Then the commandant is ordered to send the most able-bodied prisoners to Japan for slave labour. Harry, Archie and Taplow/Dyson are among those selected. They are locked into the sweltering hold of a rusty tramp steamer for the journey, which soon leads to an increasing mortality rate. Fortunately, fate intervenes in the form of a US submarine that torpedoes the steamer, which enables the prisoners to make a break for it. Harry and Archie find a raft, and pick up another prisoner in the water, Claude, which will prove very fortunate for Harry. Claude tells them they are not far from the Chinese coast. If they can make it, they stand a chance of escape.

Then they find Taplow about to be eaten by sharks and rescue him. Taplow’s water/shark ordeal has broken him down enough for them to finally succeed in getting a verbal confession out of him. Now all they have to do is get Taplow somewhere to make a written one.

When they reach the coast, Japanese soldiers arrive on a motor launch, looking for survivors from the prison ship. But Harry is not having another round in a Japanese POW camp; he says he has had enough of prisons. After getting a rifle off one of the Japanese soldiers, Harry uses it to take out all his long-standing anger against his brutal imprisonments straight out on the Japanese soldiers.

Unfortunately Taplow panics and gets shot dead when he tries to run. With Taplow gone, there can be no written confession and Harry is despondent. Archie consoles him with the thought that at least he and Claude know the truth.

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They make their way to the Japanese motor launch, and nobody seems to be there. But Archie discovers otherwise when a solitary guard on board shoots him dead. Harry and Claude are so enraged that they pump all their magazines into the soldier. After burying Archie, they make their way to China on the motor launch, where they meet up with Chinese forces and safety. Soon they are back in England.

Claude testifies on Harry’s behalf about the verbal confession Taplow made. As he is Lieutenant-General Sir Claude Trelawney, V.C., his word carries weight, and Harry is cleared of his wrongful conviction. Harry is promoted to sergeant, gets a medal and leads the regiment on D-Day.

Thoughts

This was the first-ever Commando I bought because it had themes that appealed to me: wrongful convictions, imprisonments, and struggles to survive and escape. It also has slave story elements, so it may have drawn some inspiration from girls’ comics. Yet there is still plenty of action in it – mainly from Harry Dane’s angry fist or his rifle when he has one – to keep the boys happy. The story clearly draws inspiration from “The Count of Monte Cristo” as well, which has always been a popular story.

Indeed, we see echoes of the Count (Edmond Dantes) in Harry himself with his early reactions to his false imprisonment. Like Edmond Dantes, Harry cannot understand the circumstances of his false imprisonment. He is still a good-natured naïve, trusting fellow who does not realise the one he trusted most is the one who is responsible. Like Dantes, it is not until he talks it over with another prisoner who can provide the right insights that he works out the truth. And like Dantes, it is from that point on that Harry becomes the angry, embittered man who is out for revenge.

Unlike Dantes, however, Harry never quite gets to the point where he fears things have gone too far and whether he really is in the right to pursue revenge. This could be due to Harry’s change of tactics towards Taplow. At first he is merely out for revenge against Taplow, which he expresses by beating him up. But when Archie points out that only Taplow can clear him by making a confession, Harry becomes more restrained towards Taplow and does not abandon him to his fate when his life is threatened. The only time Harry’s lust for revenge really gets out of hand is when he lashes out against the Japanese soldiers towards the end and pumps them full of lead. And it’s not even personal – he’s just taking out all his rage against all the prison guards in his life out on them. At least it sounds like Harry begins to find peace once he gives vent towards his anger. And he certainly does once his name is cleared: the story tells us he is a “changed man”.

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The story certainly makes a strong statement about the evils of prison brutality and human rights abuse. Still, it would be foolish to expect much from the Japanese guards of the POW camps. They had a different way of thinking that made them particularly cruel to their POWs during World War II. Perhaps we should not expect much of the HMS prison guards either. This story was set in the 1930s, and harsh prison conditions and treatment were considered more the norm than they are now. It is the guards of the army prison who come across as the most repugnant out of the assorted prison guards that Harry encountered. While the other guards are pretty much the same in how they treat Harry and their other prisoners, these guards deliberately go out their way to break Harry in any way they can out of pure viciousness.

As for Ted Taplow, the man responsible for all of Harry’s troubles, the only point in his favour was that he was driven into stealing the money out of desperation. The bookkeeper’s goons were leaning on him and making threats that he would end up in the river if he did not pay. He did not intend to slug the cashier, an elderly man. He only did so because the cashier had caught him by surprise and he felt he had come too far to turn back. Otherwise, Ted Taplow comes across as a despicable, cowardly, unsympathetic character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He shows no remorse or guilt over what he did, or what Harry went through because of him. And he was supposed to a good friend of Harry’s, the two having been mates since school. He refuses to confess at all, not even when Harry and Archie save him from the death sentence. He only confesses because his defences have broken down, but we don’t trust him to keep his word to make a written confession once they return home. Getting shot while running away is a fitting end to a man who is at heart a coward and a weasel, and we are not sorry he died. Yet Taplow’s death is shattering because Harry’s chance of that written confession died with him, so it is one of the powerful dramatic points in the story.

The death of Archie Duckfield is even more powerful. Archie’s death is absolutely gutting for everyone because he is such a likeable, sympathetic character and had a somewhat nerdy look. Initially this made him a target for bullying, but Harry helped him there and we sense he grows into a more confident character, though there is little room in the story to develop this more. He also provides light relief against the grimness of the story, as does Harry’s cellmate, The Prof. The Prof comes across as a father figure. Although he is in for counterfeiting, we warm to him immediately because he is a likeable, sympathetic character. He likes to help prisoners out with their problems, which makes him even more sympathetic. He is definitely the equivalent of the Abbe Faria from the Count of Monte Cristo in the way he helps Harry to work out Taplow committed the crime he was convicted of.

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When Claude is introduced, his level head and his quiet modesty (not revealing himself as a senior officer and a knight to boot) are a welcome, calming contrast to the rage of Harry Dane. And when we see Claude’s leadership qualities and resourcefulness as they fight for survival against the Japanese soldiers, we can see why Claude has risen so far in the army.

The Prof, Archie and Claude don’t just provide light relief and offset the anger and bitterness of Harry Dane. All three of them, in their own respective ways, help Harry to clear his name. The first helps Harry work out the truth, the second points out a confession from Taplow is more in order than mere revenge, and the third provides the vital testimony to clear Harry.

It is ironic that Harry owes many of his qualities as a soldier and a survivor to Ted Taplow. If Taplow had not framed him, Harry would never have gone through the experiences that toughened him up physically and mentally to endure the rigors of basic training, the horrors of POW captivity, survival on the run, and ultimately to lead the regiment on D-Day as a sergeant. Had Harry simply carried on as a factory worker until World War II broke out, it is less likely that he would have cut it so well in the army. And he naturally comes to appreciate freedom and there are things far worse than being in combat. As he takes his regiment up Normandy Beach, his words of encouragement are: “Come on lads. There’s far worse places to be than this one. I know – I’ve been there!” One can only hope he was not captured again and found himself in a German POW camp.

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Slave of the Swan (1978)

Sample Images

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Published: 1 April 1978 to 29 July 1978 (18 episodes)

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De wraak van de Zwaan [Revenge of the Swan] (in: Tina 1980)

Plot

Katrina Vale is a talented ballerina. Her mother is a ballet teacher, but has to work as a cheap one. Therefore life’s so much on the poverty line that Mum collapses of malnutrition from having to cut meals, and she’s taken to hospital. Katrina has to find a relative to look after her or it’s welfare, but Mum has never talked about any relations or her past life. A search of Mum’s belongings reveals she used to be a famous ballerina, under the name of Katia Groves. This is quite a surprise to Katrina, who was never told any of this, and is puzzled as to why things changed so much for Mum (yes, why did they?). Another ballerina, Rosa Kachinksy aka “The Swan”, was Mum’s best friend. Katrina finds the address for the ballet school Kachinsky runs in London and decides to go to Kachinsky for help. But in London Katrina gets hit by a hit-and run driver and loses her memory. She makes it to Kachinsky’s school but now has no idea why she came or who she is.

Kachinsky catches on to who Katrina is, though. Unfortunately she’s gone from Mum’s best friend to her worst enemy because she blames Mum for being confined to a wheelchair. Now she intends to use Katrina to wreak her revenge. So she takes advantage of Katrina’s amnesia to feed her an orchestrated tissue of lies to make Katrina her slave and keep her away from her mother forever.

It starts with Kachinsky telling Katrina that her name is Mary Black, and she’s been taken from an orphanage to work as a servant. Soon she is turning Katrina into a drudge who is lumbered with all the worst jobs around the place, and loving every minute of watching Katrina slave away. And of course she isn’t paying Katrina a penny for all the work; she tells Katrina that she’s living off her charity. But that’s only the beginning.

Kachinsky gives Katrina a ragged hair cut while she’s in a drugged sleep to prevent anyone recognising her from newspaper reports of her being missing (and no doubt Kachinsky enjoyed giving the poor girl that dreadful haircut!). When Kachinsky sees Katrina stealing moments to dance she puts her feet into deliberately heavy boots, on pretext they are medical boots, to stop her dancing and anyone getting suspicious.

The ballet pupils begin to notice how Kachinsky is treating Katrina. They sympathise with Katrina and tell her she’d being exploited. Their sympathy grows when Katrina plays a piece of music she finds and Kachinsky is so upset that she slams the piano lid so hard on Katrina’s hands that her fingers are badly bruised. They tell her that she was playing “The Swan”, a title role that was created especially for Kachinsky, and it’s where her nickname comes from. It was Kachinsky’s final triumph, for soon after she had the accident that crippled her.

During this same incident Kachinsky made a slip that she knew Katrina’s parents. When Katrina confronts Kachinsky, she spins a line that the parents were thieves who died in prison. She takes advantage of Katrina reclaiming a piece of her mother’s jewellery to plant ideas in Katrina’s mind that she is a thief too. She also makes threats that if Katrina leaves she will get no references. After this, Kachinsky is confident Katrina won’t leave, no matter how badly she is treated.

Seeing that the ballet pupils are getting suspicious and sympathising with Katrina, Kachinsky decides her next move is to turn them against her. She begins working on Sarah by making it look like Katrina is stealing from her. When the ‘theft’ is discovered Kachinsky spins out more lies about Katrina’s ‘criminal’ past right in front of the whole school. The plan works. Now the girls think Katrina’s a thief and turn against her.

However, Sarah is still friendly and treats Katrina to a ballet performance. Katrina feels ballet is the key to her past and hopes for a clue there. There she hears people repeating a long-standing rumour that within an hour of performing “The Swan”, the woman who was Kachinsky’s best friend deliberately crippled her out of jealousy. That woman is Katrina’s mother. So now we know why Kachinsky is out for revenge. But from what we have seen of both Kachinsky and Mrs Vale, can we really believe the rumour is true? We need to get Mrs Vale’s side of things.

Meanwhile, the police finally trace Katrina to Kachinsky’s ballet school. Kachinsky manages to mislead them, but then realises Katrina is missing because she’s still at the ballet. There Katrina has impressed performers with her own ballet talent. And while she was dancing, fragments of memory began to return, but they are not strong enough. When Kachinsky arrives she drags Katrina off and says she’s having delusions.

However, Katrina is finally beginning to doubt what Mrs Kachinsky is telling her. She and Sarah go in search of the orphanage. Kachinsky finds out and pulls another trick: she leads them to a burned-out orphanage and takes advantage of it having been deliberately burned down and someone dying in the fire to have Katrina believe she’s a fire bug and a murderer as well as a thief, and she’s wanted by the police for it. She found Katrina in a daze after the ‘incident’ and took her in and kept her safe from the police because she believed she deserved a second chance. After this, Katrina is now well and truly in the power of the Swan, for she now believes that Kachinsky is her only friend who did so much for her. She now does any job for Kachinsky, no matter how horrible, without complaint or payment, because she thinks this is the only way to repay her. Kachinsky realises Katrina’s completely in her power now too, and is crying for joy.

While Katrina spring-cleans Kachinsky’s room, she accidentally finds a secret room hidden behind the wardrobe. It is a shrine filled with Kachinsky memorabilia, and even includes the costume from “The Swan”.

Then Kachinsky’s chauffeur gossips about Katrina being an arsonist and hysteria spreads about her pulling the same thing at the school. Kachinsky takes advantage to keep Katrina locked in a disused coal cellar to sleep. There Katrina gets a frightening visitor – someone in the Swan costume! Next morning she checks the Swan costume and finds evidence it has been moved recently, and concludes someone took it and used it to frighten her.

The rumours about Katrina being an arsonist grow more intense. So when Sarah’s costume accidentally catches fire, tongues wag that Katrina caused it although she saved Sarah by putting out the flames. Sarah goes to hospital and now Katrina has lost her only friend.

Katrina’s such a bag of nerves now about her ‘arson’ and everyone turning against her that she takes off in a panic when a policeman calls. She also sees a strange woman lurking around and thinks she is a plain-clothed policewoman who is on her tail. When she tells Kachinsky this, Kachinsky tells her that the woman is just a new ballet student, Rita Hayes. All the same, Katrina remains convinced that she’s right when Rita seems to be watching her, snooping around in her room and asking her questions.

Meanwhile, the Swan costume is resurrected again. Katrina is surprised to find someone dancing in the costume in the ballet studio to “The Swan” music. She can’t see who it is because the headdress obscures the face. The mysterious dancer doesn’t seem able to dance properly. She throws a real hissy fit and smashes the ballet record.

When Katrina goes to Kachinsky to report the matter she finds Rita snooping around in Kachinsky’s office. Katrina doesn’t listen when Rita tries to explain, and that it’s for her own good. Katrina alerts Kachinsky, but they find Rita has cleared out. Kachinsky realises Rita’s snooping must be because she is onto her game with Katrina and gone to alert the police. Not wanting to be cheated of her revenge before it is complete, she decides to get rid of Katrina altogether before the police arrive.

On pretext she is helping to conceal Katrina from arrest, Kachinsky takes Katrina to a rusty old boat in the canal to hide, but in fact she means to kill Katrina there. When Katrina enters the boat she is surprised to hear somebody shut the hatch on her, which locks her in. For a while Katrina does nothing because she has been fooled by Kachinsky’s assurances that her chauffeur will come with supplies. Meanwhile, the police have arrived to question Kachinsky. The pupils are perturbed at how pleased Kachinsky seems to be at Katrina’s disappearance, which seems very odd considering what she had them believe about her taking care of Katrina before.

Back in the boat, Katrina finally realises nobody is coming, but assumes it is because something happened to Kachinsky. But when the tide causes water to rise in the rusty old tub (as Kachinsky planned) Katrina realises she has to get out fast or she will drown. After a desperate struggle she succeeds.

Katrina is in a dreadful state but, thinking Kachinsky did not return as promised because something happened to her, staggers back to the ballet school to check on her. There she collapses, in full sight of her mother, who recognises her at once. Mum has tracked Katrina down, with the aid of Sarah’s family and Rita Hayes. It turns out Rita Hayes was a private investigator Sarah’s family had hired to help Katrina; it was part gratitude for saving Sarah and part suspicion about Kachinsky’s treatment of Katrina.

However, Mum now fears Katrina is dead. Seeing this, Kachinsky crows – right in front of everyone, including the police – she has taken her revenge at last by robbing Mrs Vale of her daughter. At this, the police arrest Kachinsky.

But no – Katrina is still alive, and she regains her memory when her mother addresses her by her proper name. Mum explains to Katrina that she and Kachinsky used to be best friends at a ballet company, and she never minded that Kachinsky was the better dancer. However, following Kachinsky’s one and only (and unforgettable) performance as “The Swan”, she was crippled by a fall down a staircase and wrongly accused Mum of pushing her out of jealousy. The accusation was widely believed and Mum was forced to leave the stage. “The Swan” has never been performed since and the swan costume itself disappeared. At this, Katrina leads Mum and Sarah to the secret room full of Kachinsky memorabilia.

Then in comes Kachinsky. She had given the police the slip – and she’s walking! She had secretly regained the use of her legs years ago. She kept it quiet because she could never dance properly again and couldn’t settle for anything less than perfection, and she enjoyed playing on people’s sympathy into the bargain. Katrina now realises Kachinsky was the one in the swan costume, and Kachinsky deliberately shut her in the rusty old tub – to die. Kachinsky gleefully admits both charges and tells Katrina “what a trusting little fool” she was to fall for those tricks and all the other lies. As the police take Kachinsky back into custody she raves that she still has more than Mrs Vale, who in her view has nothing. But Katrina does not agree – and neither do we.

Thoughts

There have been hundreds of stories about unscrupulous people taking advantage of amnesiac girls for their own ends, such as Jinty’s “Miss No-Name”. But this one could well be the most disturbing, even sickening, of them all. Usually the people who take advantage of an amnesiac protagonist are just doing it for profit and unpaid labour. Feeding them lies about having shady pasts and being on the run from the police to blackmail them into staying is a pretty common trick; Mandy’s “The Double Life of Dolly Brown” aka “The Double Life of Coppelia Brown” is one example. But the antagonist in this story isn’t doing it for money – she’s doing it for revenge. Of course it is useful to exploit someone for unpaid labour, but that isn’t her real motive; it’s just part of her campaign for revenge.

Having revenge as the motive for enslaving an amnesiac girl rather than the usual greed makes the story truly frightening. Revenge is extremely dangerous because it can drive the antagonist to the point where she has no limits. That certainly is the case with Kachinsky. She is capable of anything, including murder, to get revenge on the woman she hates. As Kachinsky’s revenge unfolds she reveals herself more and more as what a sick, cruel, twisted woman she is. She is not content with merely exploiting Katrina and keeping her away from her mother. She means to break Katrina entirely with endless psychological and emotional tortures at her ballet school, including using the swan costume to terrorise Katrina. When it comes to plotting murder, Kachinsky has no compunction or remorse about it either. When she tells Katrina to use a gangplank to go over to the boat she contemplates just pushing it away and knocking Katrina into the mud. But she decides against it because it’s too quick. She wants to watch and relish each minute of Katrina suffering slowly.

Kachinsky is also extremely clever in the ways she constantly manages to block Katrina’s attempts to remember her past and twist it around to reinforce her lies even more, cut Katrina off from avenues of help, and ensnare Katrina ever more tightly. Kachinsky pulls it off so well that Katrina ends up thoroughly convinced that Kachinsky is actually protecting her, that everything she does is for her own good, and that she actually deserves everything that she is going through because of her so-called arson, murder and thievery. Katrina is so taken in by Kachinsky’s lies that she does not even realise she is being exploited. This makes Katrina’s situation even worse than other amnesiac protagonists; at least they understand the antagonists are abusing and exploiting them. But Katrina can’t; she’s been so take in and brainwashed that she thinks the woman who is abusing her is actually her only friend. Readers would have been crying for Katrina every step of the way, not only because of the abuse she is going through but also because she can’t see it for what it is.

When it is revealed that Kachinsky had been faking paralysis all this time, it’s the last straw that puts her well beyond the pale. Her excuse for abusing Katrina is that it’s all revenge on the woman who confined her to the wheelchair. But when we discover Kachinsky isn’t really confined to the wheelchair at all – well, what a nerve she’s got there! The last possible reason for Kachinsky evoking any of our sympathy is gone.

It is only when we see Mrs Vale’s flashback of Kachinsky before the accident that we feel Kachinsky is in any way tragic. We can see she used to be a very nice woman who would never have even dreamed of doing all those things she did to Katrina. And she would still be a nice, happy woman if she hadn’t had the accident. But really, Kachinsky’s hatred destroyed her far more than the accident did.

It is no surprise to learn that Kachinsky wrongly accused Mrs Vale of causing her accident. This almost invariably is the case in revenge stories, and it makes everything all the worse for all concerned because we know it’s all been for nothing.

Is Kachinsky insane? Or is she just so full of hate it turned her into an evil, twisted monster? It is difficult to determine. Kachinsky does not come across as downright insane, just sick, cruel and perverted. Only a psychiatrist can judge on her state of mind, but we never find out what the courts decide to do with her. We can safely assume that she will lose her ballet school, her reputation, and all the sympathy and respect people have for her. When word spreads, people are certain to rethink Kachinsky’s accusations against Mrs Vale, and her reputation will be salvaged. Mrs Vale may even become a teacher at Kachinsky’s ballet school, or even take it over altogether. Who knows? Whatever the aftermath, we can be confident that the Vales’ revenge will be sweeter than Kachinsky’s.

Slave of the Mirror (1974-5)

Sample Images

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Slave of the Mirror

Published: 9 November 1974 – 12 April 1975 (20 episodes)

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Translations/ reprints: De spiegel met de slangen [The Snakes Mirror] (in Tina 1976); translated into Greek in Manina.

Plot

In Cornwall, Mia Blake’s sister Janet has bought a run-down old 18th century house built by one Captain Scully and transformed part of it into a boarding house, “Scully House Private Hotel” (other parts are still shut up). There is a portrait of Scully on the wall, and he does not look very nice. Oh dear, could Mia and Janet be asking for trouble there?

Mia is expected to help out, but she is discontented and disgruntled at doing so. She feels Janet treats her like a dogsbody and does not even pay her, though she has the grace to understand that Janet would not mean it. She does not appreciate that the guesthouse is understaffed and Janet can’t afford more help until business takes off. Too bad Mia has those feelings, because they could have made her susceptible to what follows.

When Janet sends Mia up to the attic on an errand, she makes a discovery that proves fateful – an old mirror. The face that appears in it is not Mia’s reflection but the face of a young, beautiful woman. The woman’s identity and origins are as yet unknown, but she soon makes it clear she has powers to hypnotise Mia into playing dirty tricks that are aimed at driving off guests and giving the hotel a bad name. And the mirror also forces Mia to do things that are far worse than that, such as attempting to drown a dog in a well, drown a couple by scuttling their boat, stealing money from a guest, and ruining the Major’s reputation by forging a letter from him saying he cheated in a boat race. There are times when Mia does break free of the mirror’s control. For example, she stops herself killing the dog in time. The same goes for stealing the money, but Mia gets caught anyway, and so it’s another angry guest and another black mark on Scully Hotel. Mia scuttles the boat, but rescues the couple later.

Or perhaps it is because the mirror may have relented sometimes? There is a surprise when Mia realises what she did to the Major and confronts the mirror over it. The face in the mirror starts crying and helps her find a way to clear the Major. Could it be that the spirit is not as evil as it seemed? Whatever brought on the crying, though, it does not last. Soon the mirror is back to its usual tricks.

As only Mia can see the face in the mirror, she cannot convince Janet of what’s going on. Janet thinks her sister is turning delinquent or going crazy or something. Trying to dispose of the mirror or destroying it does not work either – the mirror always comes back. Janet’s losing guests and money because of all the trouble, and she is coming to the end of her tether with Mia. In the end, Mia is put in hospital because of her odd behaviour. Strangely, while Mia is in hospital two men spot her and they say she has what it takes to become a model. Afterwards they have her enter a beauty contest.

Mia’s on the verge of winning the contest when Janet comes up in a huff and yanks her out: “how dare you flaunt yourself in public like this!” Is Janet a prude or something? As Mia says, what’s the harm in a beauty contest? Janet won’t hear of Mia becoming a model either, saying she’s needed at the hotel. This time, Mia has more justification for feeling resentment towards Janet and slogging at the hotel for nothing in return – and that’s bound to increase the mirror’s hold over her.

Sure enough, Mia’s rage has her stealing money from another guest to enrol at modelling school because Janet won’t allow her the money for it. Fortunately she gets a free enrolment as a consolation prize from the contest, which means she can quietly return the money.

The mirror seems to be feeding and amplifying Mia’s own feelings of resentment. She perceives everybody being against her and Janet still treating her like a servant. Mia feels the mirror is sympathising with her there. Now Mia calls upon the mirror to help her with her own revenge against all the people she resents. She grows more violent and starts lashing out. When this happens in her modelling class, Mia is told that if it happens again she will be expelled.

Mia goes home still under the influence, which puts her in a black rage. This culminates in her slashing the portrait of Scully and screaming how much she hates him “you slave driver!” Hmm, could there be a clue there?

Meanwhile, Janet has hired a Spanish student named Inez to help with the guesthouse and take some of the pressure off Mia. Perhaps she thinks Mia has snapped under too much pressure and that’s why she’s acting out of character.

As it turns out, Inez is just the person to help Mia. Inez notices Mia’s odd behaviour when she stares into the mirror and begins to suspect the truth. Inez checks out the mirror with an antique dealer and they discover a note hidden inside it. It reveals that the mirror belonged to Isabella, an ancestress of Inez. In 1770 Isabella worked as a servant for Captain Scully. Sure enough, Scully was a horrible man. He treated Isabella very badly and when she fell ill, she was left to die of fever and neglect in her attic room. Before Isabella died, she wrote the note describing her treatment, how full of hate she is for the house and everyone who lives there, and made an oath to return from beyond the grave to have her revenge.

Now Mia knows the truth, she sympathises with Isabella and tries to tell Janet what’s been going on. But of course Janet doesn’t believe it. She sends Mia to her room. Instead, Mia goes to the attic where Isabella died, and the mirror and note are on her lap. Mia falls asleep where she starts reliving how Isabella suffered at the hands of Scully and was left to die from his neglect. She is full of rage and pity for Isabella. It is small wonder that when Mia wakes up, Isabella’s power is so strong that she has Mia set fire to the attic!

Inez finds Mia in her hypnotic state, which Mia snaps out of. Janet does not believe Mia’s story about being hypnotised and throws her out of the house. While Janet and Inez tackle the fire, Inez draws Janet’s attention to the mirror. Previously only Mia could see Isabella’s face in the mirror – but now both Inez and Janet can see it! And Isabella is crying. It seems Isabella has now repented to the point where she is showing herself to clear Mia’s name.

Meanwhile, Mia is guided towards Isabella’s grave. It just says “Isabella 1752–1770”. Inez follows Mia to the grave and suggests they pray for Isabella. Their prayers include pleas for Isabella to leave Mia alone and find peace. A ray of sun breaks through pouring rain and shines on Isabella’s grave. They take it as a sign that Isabella is happy now she has people who care for her at last.

Mia and Inez return to the house, where Janet says she now understands and asks Mia’s forgiveness. The face of Isabella in the mirror gives a loving smile, and then disappears from the mirror forever.

After the haunting stops, life becomes so good for everyone. Mia’s modelling career is now in full swing. She still works at the hotel, but now finds it enjoyable and works very happily with Inez and Janet. Isabella’s grave gets regular fresh flowers. The mirror is still around, but Mia is so happy that the only face she sees in it now is her own. The hotel is still called Scully House though – shouldn’t they change the name in light of what happened?

Thoughts

This serial has drawn comments that the acts Mia commits under the mirror’s influence are veiled excuses for delinquent behaviour. Still, the same could be said for any protagonist who falls under the power of an evil (or angry) force and is forced to do nasty things. One such victim, in Suzy’s “The Curse of Carmina” is actually sent away to a home for problem children because of the terrible things the evil object (in this case a puppet) is forcing her to do. Janet does not go this far, fortunately; the nearest is putting Mia in hospital.

There are strong similarities between this story and another malignant mirror story that appeared in Jinty several years later, “The Venetian Looking Glass”. It could well be the same writer. The protagonist, Lucy Craven finds a mirror that is haunted by an angry, vengeful spirit also named Lucy Craven, and Lucy Craven Snr hypnotises her into unleashing that revenge. Both stories climax with the protagonist being hypnotised into nearly burning the place down.

However, there are differences between how the two mirrors carry out their mayhem. The key one is that the Lucy Craven spirit can talk through her mirror but Isabella can’t speak through hers at all. As the Lucy Craven mirror can speak, it rapidly becomes established what the spirit wants and why. Lucy keeps trying to plead with her that she is hurting innocent people who have nothing to do with the ancient wrong. By contrast, Isabella can’t talk to Mia at all, so her identity and motives remain a mystery until near the end of the story. Furthermore, Mia can’t reason with Isabella that the people she is hurting have nothing to do with what Captain Scully did. All she can do is try to plead with the spirit not to force her to do things against her will. But most of the time they fall on deaf ears until near the end. Perhaps part of it was Janet bringing out the portrait of Captain Scully and calling the hotel Scully House. In Isabella’s eyes, this must have looked like a tribute to the very man who treated her so badly.

When the motives of the two respective spirits are established, one emerges as a far more sympathetic character than the other. Lucy Craven Snr brought the trouble on herself by being – to put it very bluntly – a bad-tempered bitch. By contrast, Isabella arouses sympathy because she was treated so badly by Captain Scully and her desire for revenge was understandable. Anyone decent would feel sorry for Isabella there. It is this sympathy that finally has Isabella resting in peace. Once she sees there are now people who care for her, something finally gets through to her.

Once Isabella’s motives are revealed it is also easier to understand the odd fluctuations of the spirit looking evil most times and then looking like it is having second thoughts now and then. The same thing has been seen over and over in “revenge” serials. In these serials there are moments when things go too far and innocents get hurt. These moments have the protagonist stop and think and maybe feel some remorse. Sometimes this is what turns her around. Other times the pause doesn’t last because the thirst for revenge resurfaces. Often the desire for revenge clouds their judgement and they do thoughtless, reckless and even dangerous things in the name of revenge. They do not stop think about the damage they are doing or the rights and wrongs of it all. Eventually, though, they learn their lesson.

Mia undergoes a whole new appreciation of life after the ordeal ends. In the beginning she’s completely negative in her outlook, discontented at working at the hotel and feels she’s being used as a servant. These negative attitudes could be why the mirror opened up to her in the first place and why she succumbed to its power. No doubt it is one reason why the mirror’s influence gets so powerful. It amplifies Mia’s bad feelings to the point of insanity; it has similar feelings, so it would empathise with Mia. At the end Mia has a positive attitude and really enjoys working in the hotel with Inez to help out. Being a successful model almost seems redundant. Even without the modelling job we feel Mia would be much happier at the hotel after the haunting ceases. After all, now she’s seen a real dogsbody at the hotel who was treated like a real slave, she would appreciate how lucky she is. She also comes away looking far smarter and more beautiful now that she is a full-fledged model.

Tale of the Panto Cat (1979)

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Publication: 8 December 1979 – 29 December 1979

Artist: Unknown artist (Merry)

Writer: Unknown

Summary

In Daisy Green Youth Club, Verna is known as “the original panto cat”. She is conceited, bossy, domineering and self-centred. She walks over everyone to have everything her way.

The club members are discussing what to do for their Christmas special when Verna barrels in, tears up their suggestions and pushes ahead with her own – a pantomime for the kids who will be confined to Farley Hospital over the Christmas season. But Verna doesn’t stop there. She allows no discussion of what the pantomime will be – it must be Cinderella. Before the meeting is over, she casts everyone in the roles as she sees fit. And of course she casts herself as Cinderella. Gwen is feeling very indignant at the way Verna carries on.

But there is worse to come when Gwen finds Verna is writing the panto as well. She is astonished to find the script Verna gave her is only two pages long and the lines are awful. The same goes for everyone else, and they find out why at the next meeting – Verna’s part is three times as big as theirs! They reach their limit at this and shelve Verna’s script in favour of one in the club library. But they still give Verna a chance to be Cinderella if she is good. But of course the panto cat is anything but good, and in the end she finds herself without any role (not even as wicked stepmother, the only role that really suits her personality).

Gwen says they still have to let Verna be director, but that proves to be a bad mistake. Now the panto cat has lost the limelight she turns vicious. She gets her claws out and sets out to wreck the panto now she cannot be in it. As director, she tries to stir everything up, make everyone’s life a misery, and even smash the pumpkin. All this does is get her removed from the panto altogether.

Another club member, Minna, suggests they have Verna’s father make Cinderella’s coach. Gwen says they should keep Verna out, but Minna feels it is rotten to do so because it is Christmas. This is another bad mistake. Verna sabotages the coach so it will fall apart on the night. Instead it falls apart at a rehearsal, leaving Cinderella with a sprained ankle, Prince Charming with a black eye and the Fairy Godmother with an injured leg. It looks like the show is off and the panto cat has got the cream.

But then Gwen has a brainwave – convert a piece of the coach into a puppet theatre and have a puppet Cinderella show instead. Unfortunately, Minna tells Verna about how they have salvaged the disaster, thinking she is acting in the spirit of Christmas. So the cat gets ready to pounce again. On the night of the show, Verna tries to sabotage them at the club as they make preparations to set off. She fails, and her tricks put Gwen on her guard.

At the hospital, Gwen sends Verna on an errand to get her out of the way. Verna spots a jug of water in a ward and goes in for it, planning to spill it on the puppets and make them too wet to use. But she failed to spot a warning notice on the door saying there is a child with scarlet fever quarantined in the ward. Verna has got too close to the child, and the nurse tells Verna she now has to be quarantined as well. The cat’s last minute pounce to wreck things has backfired. Verna has to spend Christmas in quarantine (later the editor informs us in the letter page that she did not contract scarlet fever) and watch the show she tried to sabotage through the observation window.

The show is a huge success and everyone except Verna enjoys it. Afterwards, the girls have a Christmas party back at the club and Verna’s fate gives them all the more reason to celebrate. Minna says she enjoyed the panto despite all the problems and they must do it again.

Thoughts

“Tale of the Panto Cat” was one of the Christmas-themed filler stories that Jinty ran over her build up to Christmas. But what Christmas message does this tale of spite, sabotage and deliberate attempts to wreck a Christmas production have for readers? Well, every Christmas has a Grinch somewhere. If Jinty ever had a Grinch story, this has to be it. But unlike her Seuss counterpart, the heart of Verna does not swell to the right size when faced with the spirit of Christmas. Rather, she destroys herself in her efforts to wreck the show. It backfires on her and she ends up spending Christmas in quarantine.

Instead of a sentimental story about the true spirit of Christmas, we get a more typical story of an unpleasant type who causes trouble and getting her eventual comeuppance. Christmas is used more as the theme and setting for the story. This makes the story a nice, refreshing, atypical break from the more standard Christmas fare in girls’ comics. And Verna does not change into a nicer person in the light of Christmas, which makes it even more realistic.

Minna is the only one who strives for real Christmas spirit in the way she insists on keeping Verna in the loop over the panto. But in so doing she unwittingly helps Verna to cause more trouble. Perhaps the story is making a statement that the spirit of Christmas is lost on some people. In fact, although it was Verna’s idea to put on the show for the children in hospital, Verna clearly did not do it for the sake of the kids. All she cared about was being the star of the show and the centre of attention. When she could not have that, she turned just plain vindictive and set out to wreck things in any which way she could with no thought for the kids or anyone else. That is hardly the way to behave, much less at Christmas time. One can only hope Verna left the club for good after she came out of quarantine and was not around to interfere with the next Christmas special.

Go On, Hate Me! (1976-1977)

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Publication: 2 November 1976-22 January 1977
Artist: Keith Robson
Writer: Len Wenn

Summary
Hetty Blake loves athletics, especially running. She and her friend Carol are picked for a 400m relay at their athletics club. Hetty starts training hard and pushes Carol to do the same. She does not listen to Carol’s pleas that she is feeling unwell. Too bad for Hetty – if she had listened, she might have saved herself the nightmare that is to follow.

Carol ends up collapsing and is rushed to hospital. Hetty blames herself, but Carol tells her not to; she collapsed because she had a heart condition that she had not told Hetty about and did not have long to live anyway. Before Carol dies, she makes Hetty promise to win the relay and to look after her younger sister, Jo.

Afterwards, Hetty still blames herself and a doctor reassures her it was all due to Carol’s weak heart. Jo overhears what was said but believes the former, not the latter, and shouts hatred at Hetty. Soon Jo starts spreading the word around that Hetty caused Carol’s death by driving Carol too hard. Nobody listens to Hetty’s pleas that Carol just died of a weak heart; Jo says Carol would have told her if that was the case. Worse, Hetty is stuck with looking after Jo because she promised Carol. And Jo is adamant about staying so she can make Hetty’s life miserable.

Hetty’s athletics club has turned against her, but Hetty is adamant about staying and winning the relay as she had promised this to Carol. And she is determined to run, despite the hatred and secret tricks from Jo – one of which damages her feet. She does win, but gets no applause or thanks.

Jo proceeds to turn the whole town against Hetty. Hetty loses her job and cannot get another because nobody will dare to hire her. Now Hetty cannot afford the rent, and lack of income raises problems in looking after Jo. So Jo is now faced with the prospect of ending up in welfare. Hetty has been advised to leave town and does so, still lumbered with Jo. They end up roughing it and even getting a brush with the law. Jo does not understand that these are the consequences of her own malice towards Hetty and goes on blaming her.

In another town, Hetty finds a school where she gets a job as a fill-in PE teacher and Jo becomes a pupil there. Hetty starts an athletics team. But Jo starts spreading the word about Hetty, and this causes many of the girls to drop out. Hetty is worried that she may be forced out of yet another district. However, enough of the girls remain in the team for Hetty to train.

Hetty gets a shock when she finds they will be competing against St Viner’s – Jo’s old school! The Viners girls recognise Hetty and are waiting for her with a nasty surprise – a hate-filled demonstration. This is the last straw for Hetty and she runs off in tears. However, Jo’s attitude towards Hetty has softened towards forgiveness and she runs after Hetty. This has Jo almost getting knocked down by a motorcyclist; Hetty pushes her out the way but takes the brunt.

In hospital, Jo tells Hetty that she found an entry in Carol’s diary that she had not noticed before because the page got stuck down. The entry proves that Hetty had been telling the truth about Carol. Jo explains that she ran after Hetty because she had forgiven her, but now she knows she had been wrong all along and apologises. She wants them to be friends and stay together, and Hetty is very happy.

The reaction of the hatemongers is not recorded.

Thoughts
Stories where girls conduct a hate campaign against someone (or sometimes an institution, such as a school or hospital) because they wrongly blame them for something were common in girls’ comics, and could be told from the POV of either the persecutor or the victim. Sometimes there is a mystery involved, such as the victim trying to unravel why the person is persecuting them, as in Jinty’s “Cursed to be a Coward!”. But one thing remains constant – it always turns out that the victim was wrongly persecuted and the persecutor made a ghastly mistake. Usually, though, this comes to light at the end of the story, often with the victim not realising who and/or why until the end approaches. But here it is at the beginning. Jo did hear the doctor tell Hetty that Carol died of a weak heart and she should not blame herself. And presumably he did try to reason with Jo during the few days he kept her in hospital following her angry outburst at Hetty. But apparently none of it made any impression on Jo, who continues to blame Hetty until the final episode.

Another unusual feature of this story is that it is told from the POV of both the victim and the persecutor. Usually it is one or the other. It is even more unusual that it is not just one person doing the persecuting but whole groups of people. This makes the story even more disturbing, and it must make one strongest statements about how hideous hate can be when you see it in the face. The hatred Hetty encounters is truly frightening, ugly and even dangerous, with people going as far as to pelt her. And in the final episode, it puts Hetty’s life in danger as well. Keith Robson does a brilliant job in illustrating the hatred on people’s faces with his heavy line work, especially on their eyes and twisted expressions. And it is hatred that Hetty cannot escape from because she is bound by a promise to look after the girl who hates her.

The only thing that can counteract hate is love, and this is the statement that the story makes as well. The penultimate episode tells us that next week an act of hate will produce an act of love at last. And love is the key that makes the ending so powerful. It could have ended with Hetty just having the accident because the bully girls drove her out into the road, and then Jo finding the diary entry and just apologising to Hetty. But instead the story makes a powerful point about love and forgiveness, with Jo finally seeing past her hate and forgiving Hetty, and then running after her to try to put it right. And once she had forgiven, Jo must have felt an enormous difference as the hatred left her and learned a lesson about the value of forgiveness. Not to mention getting her facts straight before accusing people and the consequences of spreading nasty rumours!

It seems a bit odd that there seem to be no parents or relatives for either Hetty or Jo. Moreover, Hetty looks hardly old enough to have her own flat or job; she does not look much older than fourteen. The same goes for Carol. All right, so it was not uncommon for girls to be drawn younger than they actually were to be in girls’ serials. For example, Greta Jones in Tammy’s “Nurse Grudge” was eventually revealed to be twenty years old, but she looks like she is still in her mid teens. But it is stretching credibility a bit that both girls are apparent orphans with no grown relatives and looking hardly old enough to be independent. Ah, one of the things we are probably best not to think about too much in girls’ comics.