Tag Archives: time travel

Time Trap! [1977]

Sample Images

Time Trap 1Time Trap 2Time Trap 3

Published: Tammy 11 June 1977 – 13 August 1977

Episodes: 10

Artist: Tony Highmore

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Jenny and Leonie Page are fraternal twins who live at Ploughshares Farm. Their Uncle Brian, a Professor of Paranormal Studies, wants to perform an experiment for his Physical Society to prove the existence of reincarnation. The experiment will use hypnotic regression, and Leonie is to be the test subject.

The hypnotism regresses Leonie back to a previous existence as a girl named Susannah. Susannah says she is in hiding because her life is in danger. But then Uncle Brian collapses from a heart attack and is taken to hospital, where he is soon in intensive care. Without him to bring Leonie out of the trance, she remains in it, reliving her previous existence as Susannah.

In the trance, Leonie is experiencing confusion of identity. While initially speaking in Susannah’s voice, her mind reverts to her own while she is stuck in the past. So it is in effect Susannah’s body with Leonie’s mind, in what turns out to be the 14th century. So Leonie is confused by the medieval surroundings she is in and all these medieval people all around her who call her Susannah and tell her that her life is in danger.

Leonie gets her first taste of the brutality of the times when a gang of men try to kill a boy because he is a lackey of John of Gaunt. Leonie sticks up for the boy, but she uses 20th century references, which of course the men don’t understand and they call her a “crackbrained daughter of Eve”. Indeed, Leonie’s lack of experience with the 14th century continues to lead to very awkward and even dangerous moments. As the time travel wears on, Leonie’s awareness of her 20th century identity becomes blurred and filters through in flashes. Sometimes she does not know what century her mind belongs to anymore. However, she never loses sight of getting home to Ploughshares Farm and Jenny.

Then another man comes, says Susannah is his sister and pulls her away. The lackey thanks Susannah for saving his life and says he won’t forget it. Susannah’s brother turns out to be Wat Tyler, the leader of the ill-fated Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Tyler also has a feud with Tyler and John of Gaunt; the former is accused of attacking the latter and burning his home down.

Now and then Leonie mumbles things while in her trance, which give Jenny clues as to what is going on. One of them is Leonie saying Wat Tyler is her brother. When Jenny reads that the king, Richard II, ordered all members of Tyler’s family to be executed after the Peasants’ Revolt failed, she is really afraid for Leonie. A doctor is called in but can’t help. They can only hope Uncle Brian recovers, but Jenny fears time is running out.

Back in the past, the Peasants’ Revolt is underway. They intend to march on Smithfield where Tyler will give an address to Richard II that will demand rights for peasants, equality for everyone and an end to serfdom. However, a fellow rebel named Tom Quintain fears Tyler’s address is sounding too radical and will not go down well with Richard. He sends Leonie/Susannah over to Tyler with a warning to tread more carefully with Richard and treat him with the utmost respect. But Leonie/Susannah fails to get to Tyler in time, and soon Quintain is proved right. Richard II is outraged at Tyler’s address, which really is too far ahead of its time. Worse, Tyler discovers that he has fallen into a trap set by Richard and his men, and gets struck down.

The revolt now falls apart and Tyler’s supporters abandon him. Leonie/Susannah and Quintain take Tyler to a monastery for medical attention. Mayor Walworth, a King’s man, bursts in to arrest Tyler. Walworth shows no respect for the sanctuary of the church; his men brutally murder the monk who was nursing Tyler and drag the already-dying Tyler out to be executed. Leonie/Susannah escapes with the help of Quintain.

As they pass the Tower of London, Quintain shows her a cage hanging from walls. It is a gruesome relic of what happened to the sister of another man who offended the king. They locked her in the cage while keeping her alive by lowering food to her. She was exposed to all elements for seven months before she finally perished.

Now understanding the merciless fate that awaits her, just because of who her brother is, Leonie/Susannah eagerly goes on the run with Quintain. Their plight grows even more desperate when they find out the soldiers have their descriptions and are now on the lookout for them. Quintain and Leonie/Susannah now head for the Tylers’ home in Kent.

Hearing this from Leonie’s mumblings, Jenny realises the fugitives are heading straight into a trap because Kent will be the first place Richard’s men will look. She has the University Library Service send her all they’ve got on the Peasants’ Revolt. She is sent one item that is very helpful: the original parish register of Twaintrees, which the sender thinks Tyler originated from. She finds the record of Susannah’s birth and realises that in 1381 Susannah would have been the same age as Leonie.

Fortunately, when Leonie/Susannah and Quintain arrive in Kent, they see the soldiers looking for them. The soldiers have orders to execute people for participating in the Peasants’ Revolt, on the mere pretext that they were out of the area recently. They drag off one innocent man because of this, and then they start offering rewards for names of anyone else who was absent from the village of late. Then the soldiers spot Leonie/Susannah and Quintain, but they mange to escape and get to Twaintrees, where Quintain wants to warn Tyler’s supporters to flee.

When they arrive at Twaintrees, Leonie/Susannah begins to hear Jenny’s voice. Jenny has been trying to contact Leonie, and has finally succeeded. Leonie/Susannah can now hear Jenny across the ages. She tells Leonie/Susannah that Uncle Brian is still in no state to bring her out of the trance.

Tyler’s friends take some persuading to believe Richard has betrayed them and they are in danger of their lives. They are finally convinced when a dying escapee from another village arrives and, before he dies, says Richard’s soldiers are already burning other Kentish villages and killing innocent people. Jenny tells Leonie/Susannah to tell them to head for Standfast Castle; the books she is consulting say the Kentish rebels held out by occupying the castle. They head for the castle, and Leonie/Susannah is standing by them; she is now convinced she has a part to play in their fight against Richard. The rebels get ready to fight against Richard’s men, and a sortie unfolds when the royal soldiers arrive.

Meanwhile, Jenny has made her own way to Standfast Castle. She finds the castle is broken down and incapable of holding out an army. She can only hope it was not that way in 1381. Then she finds a plaque saying the sortie was a big mistake and many of the Kentish rebels and their leaders were ruthlessly killed. Oops!

In 1381, Quintain is among those killed and Leonie/Susannah is cursing Jenny for what turned out to be bad advice. And now the soldiers are after her and all the survivors. They retreat back into the castle, where the men start to quarrel about whether their revolt was right and wondering if they will be saved or killed. The quarrel centres between Quintain and the hypocritical, cowardly turncoat Hedge Priest. Then they get a horrible shock when they see Richard’s men are now bringing on their “black thunderbolt”, a battering ram that no castle gate has ever withstood. Leonie/Susannah can only hope Jenny will come up with better advice.

Jenny goes to the Custodian of Standfast Castle and gets a historical map of the area. She is astonished to find Ploughshares Farm on it and it is in the vicinity of Standfast Castle. She contacts Leonie/Susannah and starts using the map to guide her back to Ploughshares Farm.

However, Leonie/Susannah doubts she can do that, because the black thunderbolt has now done its work and the soldiers are pouring into Standfast for the final slaughter. Moreover, the sycophantic Hedge Priest offers to betray both Susannah Tyler and all the loot the rebels have hidden. The soldiers shoot an arrow through him before he gets the chance to tell them. The final battle between the soldiers and the rebels begins.

Leonie/Susannah now proceeds to make her escape. She gets surprising help from the lackey she had saved earlier. He has come to repay his debt, and his name is now revealed to be Giles Lamport. Giles uses a rope to get Leonie/Susannah off the castle walls and down into the marshes. The soldiers do not believe Giles when he says he found no sign of Susannah in the castle. But they have grown sick of all the slaughter and decide to just leave. Leonie/Susannah is pleased to finally see some chivalry in these soldiers.

Using the map, Jenny guides Leonie/Susannah through a causeway in the marshes towards Ploughshares Farm. Unfortunately this turns out to be more wrong advice. Jenny does not realise the marshes had been drained in the 17th century, but they were not in the 14th century, so Leonie/Susannah is now getting caught in the marshes. Worse, some of the soldiers have seen the escaping Leonie/Susannah and go after her. They head towards the marshes and block her escape.

Then Leonie/Susannah overhears the soldiers saying things. They have been spooked by rumours from the rebels that Leonie/Susannah is a witch because she seemed to be talking to a spirit from another world (Jenny). So Leonie/Susannah turns it to her advantage by playing ‘spirit’ to scare them off: “Woe unto Richard, the second of that name – and thrice, thrice woe to the brutes who murder in his name!” This gets rid of the soldiers (and by 1400 they should be saying that the prophecy has come true).

Leonie/Susannah is now safe to go on her way. But she is in a very bad state from lack of food, hypothermia and getting covered in marsh mud. When she reaches the end of the causeway she has no idea which way to go, so she calls on Jenny. Jenny begins to guide Leonie/Susannah in. Along the way the girls get to see what their farm looked like in 1381: pig pens that no longer exist, oak saplings that are now trees in the 20th century, and wattle-and-daub dwellings.

Uncle Brian, though still an invalid, comes home to bring Leonie out of the trance. He arrives just in time to see her come out of the trance of her own accord now she is home. Leonie is rather confused by her change of clothes and surroundings, and it takes some moments for her to get her bearings on what century she is in. They deduce the people at the 14th century Ploughshares Farm took Susannah in, so she found safety from Richard II. The parish register reveals that Susannah married Stephan Fairman of (then) Plowshares Farm and had three sons: Wat, Tom and Harry.

Thoughts

This story could well be regarded as one of Tammy’s underrated gems. Girls’ serials featuring reincarnation have appeared elsewhere, such as Misty’s “Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel”, but this is the only serial I know of that features past life regression. This is a very fresh, innovative idea, and it’s a whole new take on the hypnotism formula, particularly hypnotism gone wrong.

Using past life regression as a time travel device is both an ambiguous and clever one. At times we are not sure as to whether Leonie is just recalling her past life as Susannah or if she is actually changing and shaping the past itself, especially when Jenny begins to interfere with well-meaning but not always well-researched advice. Is Jenny actually responsible for the deaths of all those rebels in the ill-fated sortie with the wrong advice she gives Leonie/Susannah? Or is it something that just happened anyway and what is unfolding in Leonie/Susannah’s mind just confusion from the hypnotism and the girls’ identities? After all, it is still debatable as to whether past life regression is actually true regression or if the hypnotism is playing tricks on the mind.

Once the links to Ploughshares Farm are revealed, there is a “so that’s it!” from readers. It becomes apparent as to why Susannah has reincarnated as Leonie. The story not only uses the Peasants’ Revolt and its aftermath to give us a time travel adventure but to also shape the history of Ploughshares Farm and (we suspect) the family history of the Page family.

The Middle Ages is a time period that did not seem to receive much attention in IPC’s period stories, which concentrated more on the 19th century. But this one is a powerful, relentless exploration of the Middle Ages that is so realistic because it does not spare the brutality of the age. This begins straight away with a gang of brutes who are on the verge of killing an innocent boy just because he is a servant of John of Gaunt. And it continues with people being brutally killed. Even the clergy and perfectly innocent villagers are shown no mercy. Whole villages are razed to the ground and their inhabitants left to burn, just because of Richard’s vendetta against Wat Tyler. The gruesome, barbaric punishments of the period are also featured. Though they are kept cleverly off-panel, they make their presence keenly felt, particularly in the scene where Tom shows Leonie/Susannah the cage used to torture a girl to death, just because of who her brother was.

The story totally debunks the chivalry that medieval people romanticised so much. There is no chivalry in any of the soldiers and knights in the story who do nothing but murder, pillage and vandalise in Richard’s name. They are, in the words of the rebels, “devils in armour” and “killer(s) on horseback”. The chivalry and honour comes from most of the characters that go against them, from Tom Quintain to Giles Lamport the lackey who always remembers his promise to repay Leonie/Susannah for saving his life.

Tony Highmore was a June artist whose artwork was seen most often in Strange Stories after the merger. “Time Trap” was his only serial for Tammy (apart from a mini-serial Strange Story) and it is one of his crowning moments. The medieval atmosphere is brilliantly wrought through the linework and inkwork of Tony Highmore. They are quite heavy and not fine or delicate, which really brings out the roughness and coarseness of the characters, the harshness of their environment, and even the types of dentures that prevailed at the time.

The story makes strong statements that heroes do not always survive or get things right. Readers must have cried when Tom Quintain, the brave, honourable man who takes up the mantle of Wat Tyler, becomes one of the rebels slaughtered in the Standfast Castle sortie. And Jenny, whom we expected to be the saviour of the piece once she gains the power to contact Leonie in the past, turns out to be indirectly responsible for it because she gave the wrong advice. Readers would have been even more gutted because of that. The writer sure was breaking moulds there.

The characterisation of the medieval people is also wonderfully depicted. Even minor characters get their moments. For example, Richard II only appears in a few panels but it is enough for him to make his point that he is a man who should not be underestimated although he is still young – as the rebels discover to their cost. And although Richard is shown as a handsome man in appearance, his actions show he is one of the worst tyrants and not to be trusted. Hedge Priest is another minor character who makes his mark – as a coward and weasel despite being a man of the cloth. What a contrast to the poor hapless priest who is murdered for nursing Wat Tyler!

The way in which the writer uses the Peasants’ Revolt for the time setting is very ingenious. Instead of just telling the story of the Peasants’ Revolt through the time travel element, the story uses the aftermath of the failure of the Peasants’ Revolt to bring us a fugitive story filled with bloodshed, lots of fighting, and overlap between two centuries that are six centuries apart. What makes it an even more interesting take on the Peasants’ Revolt is that the story does not focus on Wat Tyler himself, who gets killed pretty early in the piece. Instead, it concentrates on the supporters and family of Wat Tyler and the consequences they suffer from the failed revolt and gives them a chance to shine.

 

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A Leap Through Time… [1978]

A Leap Through Time

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Published: Misty 26 August 1978 – 7 October 1978

Episodes: 7 (part 1 almost the length of a double episode spread)

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Een sprong in de tijd [A Leap through Time] Tina (weekly comic, 1985)

Plot

Elena Hare is on a school trip in Crete. The school party is not far from an old amphitheatre. As usual, Laura picks on Elena, calling her “rabbit”, a cruel twist on her surname, because Elena is no good at sport, has no confidence, and keeps herself buried in books.

Elena takes refuge in the old amphitheatre and begins to daydream. She then has a vision of herself in the amphitheatre in the days of ancient Crete. She is performing a sort of bull-baiting dance with a live bull (as explained in the text that describes life in ancient Crete) and wearing a crystal bull pendant. Elena’s final challenge is the bull leap, which means taking the bull by the horns in order to perform a somersault straight over the bull’s back. The leap is demonstrated in the story’s most striking panel below:

bull-leap

The crowd cheers her victory and someone throws her the crystal bull pendant, saying “wear it for me!”

The girls catch up and Elena tells them what she experienced. They all ridicule it, but the crystal bull is there. Elena is seized by a sudden impulse to shut up that sneering Laura once and for all. Still clutching the crystal bull, she performs amazing somersaults that take the girls by surprise.

It is time for the school trip to leave, but Elena does not want to go. She feels like she belongs there, and she has been having odd dreams about some Cretan girls pleading with her to stay.

Back at school, Elena takes everyone by surprise. Last term she was useless at gym. But now, with her new confidence – and crystal bull pendant – there is no stopping her from going to the gym and her new gymnastics skills are stunning. In fact, Elena feels she knows every trick in the book about gymnastics now and is a cert for the inter-schools gymnastics contest. But then she has more visions of the Cretan girls. This causes her to take a fall while performing on the parallel bars and she ends up in hospital.

In hospital, the doctors are puzzled as to why they can’t wrench the pendant away from Elena, who is in a coma. Elena’s visions grow even more terrifying. In them, she has taken a fall while showing the Cretan girls the bull leap. But she must recover in time to teach it to them, or they will all die on the day of the sacrifice. Crete is being plagued by quakes. The King of Crete thinks the quakes are due to the bull god being displeased and must be placated with sacrifice. So the girls (Iris, Hebe, Melina, Eyria and, of course, Elena) have been selected for sacrifice to the bull god.

The girls don’t understand Elena’s protests that she is a girl from England who doesn’t understand what the hell is going on; they tell her she is the most famous bull-dancer in Crete and will teach them how to face the bull. Elena soon finds there is no escape because the girls are too well guarded.

Elena finally understands she is on some sort of time trip to ancient Crete. The pendant was bequeathed to her from another Elena, an ancestress who wore the pendant before her and successfully leapt the bull. Elena decides she must help the girls.

Upon entering the hall of the bull, Elena realises the bull is a fake. It is just a man-operated wooden machine disguised as a bull, and it has been provided for practice. Treating it like the school gym vault, Elena begins to train the girls, but they don’t have much success with the vaulting. They too are lacking confidence. Moreover, they are being fattened up for sacrifice, which does not make them fit for athletics or somersaulting over bulls. Elena imposes serious training, with intense exercise, eating only wholesome foods, and says that she used to lack confidence as well. If she can overcome that, they can too!

A real bull is brought in, and Elena takes the girls down to practise on him. She is warned the bull is extra-dangerous because of an injury. But the warning comes too late – she’s already in the pit with him, and he’s coming too fast for her to do the bull leap! However, the other girls find their courage and distract the bull enough for Elena to get out.

Following this, the girls bond together as a team and overcome their fears. The bull handler planned it that way and continues to help them by bringing in another bull for them to practise with. Elena makes progress with the bull leap and coming up with strategies to defeat the bull on the day of the sacrifice.

However, the continuing quakes have the people so terrified that the King advances the date of the sacrifice. It will now be the following day, which cuts the time the girls needed to be properly prepared, and the four trainees have not learned the bull leap.

Elena manages to orchestrate a breakout through old sewers. But they get recaptured when they reach the harbour in search of a boat. Moreover, the harbour is high and dry because the water has receded drastically. The Cretans believe it is a sign that that the bull god is angry because the sacrifice girls tried to escape. But Elena recalls from geography lessons that the sea receding in this manner means a major earthquake is coming within 24 hours (uh, shouldn’t it mean that a tsunami is coming?).

But not even the girls listen to Elena’s warnings about this. They too believe the bull god will be appeased and the quakes stop once they are sacrificed, while Elena knows that no amount of sacrificial blood will stop what is coming. Even the birds are taking fright from the impending quake and fleeing.

In the arena, Elena faces the bull alone because the others are too frightened. Elena realises the bull is too big for the bull leap, so things look even more hopeless. Then fate steps in – a small earthquake strikes and opens a deep rift in the ground that cuts the bull off from Elena and makes it run away in terror.

The King takes this as a sign that the bull god does not want the girls to be sacrificed after all, and he orders them to be set free. But a few minutes later the huge earthquake strikes, killing everyone in the arena. Elena does not look much better off.

Elena now wakes up in hospital. She has been in her strange coma for 15 days. She finds her crystal bull is now smashed and is worried she will lose her newly discovered skills for gymnastics. But when she gets back to school she is relieved to find she still has them.

In another time and place, Iris, Hebe, Melina and Eyria watch Elena perform her gymnastics with the aid of a mystic. They are glad to see Elena so happy in her own world and thank the mystic for it.

Thoughts

This story certainly gets off to an unconventional start. Before we even start reading the first episode we are actually given a page of historical background on ancient Crete and the bull leap to give us some context and help us understand the story better. Seldom have girls’ comics had such foresight. The first episode itself is even longer than Misty’s usual four-page spreads.

At first it looks like the story will go off in the direction of a timid no-hoper girl who gains confidence and talent when she is given a magical object. The formula has been used over and over in girls’ comics, and is sometimes given an edge when the magic object turns out to have a dark side or causes awkward problems. But instead of having Elena and her crystal bull continuing to wow everyone at school while arousing jealousy in rivals, which is the more usual convention, the pendant takes Elena off on an abrupt time travel journey to ancient Crete to save four girls from death. It certainly is quite a departure from convention.

Elena, who is barely out of her own shell and only just acquired a talent for gymnastics, must now impart her new skills to these four girls who are pretty much like herself not long ago – lacking confidence and think themselves hopeless at such acrobatics. It’s a race against time against the date for the sacrifice, it’s a matter of saving the lives of four girls, and then it looks like a futile cause once Elena realises there is going to be a huge earthquake anyway, regardless of what happens in the arena. But Elena takes everything firmly in hand, even when it looks like it’s all pointless because of the impending earthquake. Surely no serial has made a more sterling message about having confidence in yourself and keeping the faith than this one.

The mechanics of the time travel and the crystal bull pendant are not really explained, which is not really surprising. At first it looks like Elena might be reliving some sort of past life or becoming possessed by the spirit of the other Elena. But at the end it is revealed that the four girls and a mystic are watching her from another time and place. So could the mystic have somehow engineered the whole thing? We are not told, and it probably best left to the imagination because it would give you a headache trying to figure it out.

Feito’s artwork does a brilliant job of bringing off the story, such as those huge sweeping panels of the amphitheatre, the bull leap acrobatics, and the bulls themselves. Drawing animals was always one of Feito’s greatest strengths. The story also shows that Feito’s artwork lends itself well to period stories that use settings of ancient civilisations. Another Misty story, “When the Rain Falls…”, which uses a Roman setting, also demonstrates this. Though John Armstrong remains unmatched for drawing gymnastics, the Grecian-style panel demonstrating the mechanics of the bull leap is one of Feito’s best ever.

 

 

Shadow on the Fen (1978)

Sample images

Fen 1

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Fen 2

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Fen 3

Publication: 18 February 1978-13 May 1978

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Unknown (but see thoughts)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #25 as “The Witchfinder”

Plot

Linden James and her family have just moved to the village of Wychley Green, but things aren’t off to a good start for her. She misses her old home and isn’t making friends because they think she’s standoffish. At the Wishing Tree she wishes for a friend, without much hope of getting one.

But then a girl from the 17th century appears. Her name is Rebecca Neville and her evil cousin, Matthew Hobley “The Witchfinder”, has accused her of witchcraft. Part of it is Rebecca having her grandmother’s ‘healing hands’ and treating sick people and animals with them. But the real reason is that Hobley is after her inheritance. Hobley was leading a witch-hunting mob against her all the way up to the Wishing Tree, and she suddenly found herself in Linden’s time. Linden draws the conclusion that it was the Wishing Tree. She tells Rebecca that she is quite safe here because people here don’t believe in witches anymore. Rebecca is upset to find her home in ruins and her grandmother’s grave (which does not give the date of her death). However, she moves in with Linden, swapping her 17th century clothes for modern ones and school uniform happily enough.

But soon there are warning signs that Hobley has followed Rebecca into the 20th century. During a thunderstorm, they are terrified when a frightening silhouette that looks like a Puritan appears in a mirror. Soon the same shadow is following them about. And Linden, who is confident that Hobley can’t stir up people against Rebecca in this period because people no longer believe in witches, is soon to learn otherwise.

It begins when the school visits an archaeological dig, which Rebecca realises is unearthing an apothecary’s shop. The Witchfinder attacks with a pile of bricks, which narrowly misses Rebecca and the Professor in charge of the dig. The classmates blame Rebecca and start to whisper she is a witch. She gets particular trouble from the wayward Smith boys. Meanwhile, the dig uncovers a ring on a trap door that could lead to something.

Linden buys a witchball (an old charm against witches) for her mother’s birthday. On the way back from the shop the shadow of the Witchfinder appears. Linden threatens him with the witchball and he retreats. They now have a protection against the Witchfinder, but odd attacks start at Linden’s home and seem to be targeting the witchball.

The whispering against Rebecca gets worse when she offers to help Mrs Perks look for her cat while the Smith boys tease Mrs Perks over it. Mrs Perks is also rumoured to be a witch because she is psychic. They help Mrs Perks find her cat and in return Mrs Perks reads Rebecca’s palms. She says Rebecca has healing hands and warns her that there is an evil shadow pursuing her.

The dig uncovers a box that contains items from the apothecary. Among them is a gold locket belonging to the apothecary’s granddaughter Catherine. Catherine was a friend of Rebecca’s, and she and the apothecary stood up to Hobley for her. Then the Professor uncovers a document listing the names of people brought to trial for witchcraft – and Rebecca’s name is on the list! This renews the rumours that Rebecca is a witch. Linden covers up by saying the other Rebecca must be an ancestress, which calms things down. But they wonder how the list got there.

That question is answered when the Witchfinder turns up in person at school, posing as Professor Hopkin who has joined the dig. Linden and Rebecca learn that Catherine searched Hobley’s room for false evidence against Rebecca and stole the list. But she was discovered, so she, the apothecary and their cat were hanged as friends of a witch. However, Catherine is not quite finished – her ghost appears when the Witchfinder traps them at the fen and gets help for them.

They now realise the Witchfinder must be a wizard in his own right and turn to Mrs Perks for help. The Witchfinder tries to scare them with ghosts, but the ghosts fade when they approach Grandmother Neville’s grave, and they figure it must offer protection against the Witchfinder. Mrs Perks helps them figure out the secret of the Witchfinder’s power – a box containing a black wand, a black book and a book bound in black leather. If they destroy those items, they destroy the Witchfinder.

They discover that the Witchfinder/Hopkin has gone into hiding. Mrs Perks suggests he may be at Deepdene Cottage and gives Rebecca a cross and rowan flowers for protection. She says the cross was carved by an ancestor, whose wife became one of Hobley victim’s – so she has her own score to settle with Hobley.

They find the box at the cottage but are attacked by the Witchfinder’s minions – ravens and vicious dogs. They manage to retrieve the wand and destroy it. But the Witchfinder still has the book and knife.

Mrs Perks tracks down the box again, but the Witchfinder attacks in person – and right in front of the Smith boys. Linden repels him with the cross, and they destroy his book. But he gets away with the knife.

Mrs Perks ends up in hospital. The Witchfinder gave the Smith boys such a fright that they have reformed and are looking after Mrs Perks’ garden. Mrs Perks warns the girls that the Witchfinder will be even more dangerous now because he is frightened, and they still have to destroy the knife. Their search for him goes nowhere, and now he sends a mist that cuts off the village from the rest of the world.

Rebecca heads back to the Wishing Tree on her own, figuring that is where she will find Hobley and the knife. She finds the knife, but has forgotten her cross. So she is unprotected when he emerges, ready to drag her back to their own time and burn her at the stake.

However, Linden discovers the oversight, heads to the Wishing Tree with the cross, and arrives in the nick of time. As she flourishes the cross, lightning strikes. The Wishing Tree is destroyed and Hobley is reduced to bones, which crumble within the hour, leaving only his hat. But there is no sign of Rebecca.

Then Linden finds a book Rebecca left for her. It contains a reference to a statue in the churchyard that is a tribute to Rebecca. It reveals she survived Hobley’s persecution, became Rebecca Bartlett, and died a noble old lady at 77. Linden is relieved to know Rebecca got back safely and goes to put flowers on her grave. She finds the epitaph reflects their whole adventure: “Time and Death are illusions – but Friendship survives forever”.

Thoughts

This story is certainly a cut above the formula about evil sorcerers/witches who use their evil magic to wreak havoc while the protagonists try to stop them, and it almost invariably ends with the sorcerer/witch being destroyed. But there is always a lot of dark, spooky, scary stuff along the way, and this can leave panels that resonate with the reader years after she reads the story.

Shadow on the Fen is using the formula to make a serious statement about witch-hunting and where the evil really lies – with the accused or the accuser? Its strongest underscoring in this regard is in the hypocrisy of it all – the Witchfinder accusing people of being evil witches while he is the one who is an evil wizard. There is humour in the irony in that the Witchfinder is the one who is allergic to the things that are supposed to repel witches – witchballs, rowan and crucifixes. It further underlines the hypocrisy. While real witch-finders could hardly have been evil wizards, they were certainly evil people who would go to any lengths, such as heinous torture, to make a bounty and a fortune.

The story also touches on human psychology and how much we have actually outgrown the thinking that sent people to the stake for witches in olden times. And how far has Wychley Green itself outgrown it? For example, are the rumours against Mrs Perks the product of stupid, ignorant people, or could there still be traces of witch-beliefs in Wychley Green? Lingering witch-beliefs in modern villages have formed the basis of several ‘persecution’ serials such as Wenna the Witch and Mark of the Witch!

The story should be appreciated for taking a few moments to depict witches as they really were – wise women who helped people with charms, folk magic and herbal remedies. They were not agents of the Devil – a myth invented by the Inquisition – but their healing practices made them ready targets for accusations of witchcraft. When Rebecca first meets Linden, she recounts how several people in her time went this way, and her own healing abilities have made her vulnerable to the same accusation.

The name of Matthew Hobley and his alias, Professor Hopkin, are clearly references to Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. The fact that Hobley turned out to really be a dark wizard may be a reference to the (probably apocryphal) legend that Hopkins was declared a wizard by his own witch-hunting methods and executed.

Several years later the theme of the Witchfinder General resurfaced in Tammy, with Spell of Fog, 29 October 1983 – 17 December 1983. This time, though, it is Hopkins himself. A film crew want to make a film about one of his victims, Alice Compton. Sally Groves, who has been deeply affected by the Compton case, protests when the director announces he is making a sensationalised version that depicts Alice as an actual agent of the Devil, not a hapless victim of superstition and hysteria.

Then a strange fog appears where Alice’s remains have been scattered. Its power cuts the village off from the outside world and has the village progressively reverting to a 17th century pattern in technology, dress and people’s thinking. Hysteria erupts in the village as the fog takes hold and people think it’s Alice’s revenge. Sally is the obvious scapegoat because she alone has remained unaffected, so she becomes a target of mob attacks and people calling her a witch. Eventually the fog takes over completely and the persecution of Alice Compton is re-enacted, with Sally as Alice and the film director as Hopkins.

But it turns out the power behind the fog is neither Alice nor Hopkins – it’s the villagers who burned Alice at the stake. They acted out shame and guilt over what they did, but also to remind the modern villagers that witch-hunting is not something that belongs in the past. It can erupt in any day and age because the psychology behind it (unreason, prejudice and fear of what you do not understand) is in every human. (Yes, you only have to look at things like the Red Scares and Satanic Ritual Abuse Scares to know what they mean.) They leave the villagers with a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of their fears.

There are similarities between Fen and Fog – witchfinders, evils of witch-hunting and mass hysteria, and supernatural forces and mists that cut off villages from the outside world and turn modern people into witch-hunting idiots of olden times – that have me wondering if it is the same writer. The mist in Fog sounds like a step up from the fog in Fen – going from what seems a belated last-ditch effort on the part of the Witchfinder to becoming the driving force of the entire plot. The credits for Fog list Jake Adams as the writer and George Anthony (actually, Tony Coleman) as the artist.

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Land of No Tears (1977-78)

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Publication: 5 November 1977 – 11 February 1978; reprinted 3 January 1981 – 11 April 1981 as a result of Pam’s Poll.

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Cassy Shaw was born with one leg shorter than the other and a consequent bad limp, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself; what’s more, she is quite happy to play on the sympathies of those who do. Her parents have different ideas: they arrange for her to have an operation that will correct her disability. In the operation, something very unusual happens: Cassy is whirled away through time into the future, a cruel future in which girls who are less than utterly perfect are treated as second-class citizens. She is greeted (with something very different from the sympathy she is used to) by Alpha girl Perfecta, who takes her to the nearest communal home or hive, run by a ‘hive mother’, who takes in children from the age of four and turns them into emotionless, physically perfect “superior girls”.

Cassy quickly revolts against this harsh treatment, where the Gamma girls are dressed in shabby clothes, treated like skivvies, and given literal scraps from the Alpha girls’ tables while the latter hone their mental and physical perfection and live in luxurious surroundings. She urges the Gamma girls to train at sports in order to beat the Alphas and win the Golden Girl award, proving that ‘rejects’ like them can’t safely be despised and humiliated. At first the Gamma girls are understandably sceptical, but Cassy finds allies first in her fellow Gamma, Miranda, who would have been an Alpha if her robo-nurse hadn’t left her too near a radiator which caused her to have a bald patch; and subsequently in Miranda’s mysterious mother, who wears heavy make-up and is clearly hiding a secret, but who is a fantastic trainer. Cassy herself has always been good at swimming and finds that the hive pool has a pace-setter – film of Perfecta swimming. “Racing against Perfecta is just what I need to spur me on. I’ll do anything to beat that stuck-up snob!”

Things initially look sticky in the first round of the Golden Girl trials, but Cassy wins her swimming heat, causing Perfecta to sweat as she realises “She’s better than me! She’s better than me! Those wretched Gamma girls could get through to the final… Could even win the Golden Girl award. I feel sick!” Not so fast – an announcement comes over the tannoy saying that Cassy has been disqualified – there are no records for her, and so the authorities think she must be competing under an assumed name. A reprieve happens when the computer fails to match her up with anyone else – as indeed how could it, as Cassy’s voiceprint and fingerprints never got recorded in this future time. However, this has brought suspicion on the hive generally and further investigations are promised.

Miranda’s mother appears in time to watch her gymnastics performance, which starts off lacklustre but is spurred on by her mother’s presence. This gives the Golden Girls another win, but the mother is furious – with Cassy. “Thanks to you, the Hive Inspector is coming down to investigate. He’ll ask questions about everyone. He’s certain to find out I’ve been meeting my daughter in secret. And then they’ll take her away from me, for ever!” (Yes, that was her secret – or at least, part of it…) Because of this, Miranda feels she can’t be friends with Cassy any longer; and Perfecta, desperate to train as hard as possible, breaks off with her best friend too, setting things up for a head-to-head between the perfect girl and the 20th century “reject’.

It’s a head-to-head that seems doomed to failure for Cassy, not because she is slower than Perfecta, but because Perfecta is about to spill the beans to the visiting Hive Inspector about having seen Miranda’s mother where she wasn’t supposed to be. “When I tell him, he’ll have Miranda and her mother put into a special prison… and serve them right, too!” Cassy can prevent this – but only by promising to lose to Perfecta in the Golden Girl finals. Miranda’s mother comes, sobbing and grateful, to thank Cassy for this sacrifice; the heavy make-up comes off with her tears and reveals … Miss Norm, the Hive Mother! That’s how she has managed to appear and disappear so unexpectedly at times.

Miss Norm tells the story of how the robo-nurse was left to look after Miranda when she was a baby, because Miss Norm wanted to enjoy herself without the responsibilities of motherhood; but as the nurse’s heat sensors were faulty she put the cot too close to the radiator and Miranda’s head got scorched. “If it hadn’t been for the accident, Miranda would have been an Alpha girl. She was perfect…” – Miss Norm doesn’t regret the cruel system of Alphas and Gammas, she just regrets the accident that placed her daughter on the wrong side of the divide. “I had to make things up by protecting her now… When the time came for her to be taken away to the Hive, I changed my name and got the job of Hive Mother.”

Cassy is out of the running because of her promise, but she hasn’t told any of the other Gamma girls, who do well in the final heats. Perfecta draws inexorably ahead as Cassy lets her win, but suddenly Perfecta screams in pain – she has done something to her spine by pushing herself faster and further! She is out of the race, and Cassy speeds up to try to make up for lost time. Even the crowd are on her side, now, despite the Hive Inspector urging them to “Remember your conditioning… “Feelings – bad! Bad! Self-control… Good! Good!” In a final surge, Cassy pips the other racers and ensures that the Gamma girls win the award – to the cheers of the crowd, who push the protesting Hive Inspector out of the way and into the pool.

In the aftermath, Miranda and Cassy are chatting about the changes that have happened since their win: “it seems people were pretty fed-up with things. When a bunch of “reject” girls won a top sports award, they realised they’d had enough of being bullied.”  But Cassy is still stuck in this future world – until their walk takes them near to the ruins of the hospital, the place where Cassy first emerged and met Perfecta. She falls down a crumbly part of the ruined site and… wakes up in her own time, with the leg operation having been successful. Was it just a dream? No, because she is still clutching her Golden Girl medallion. “Then everything did happen… the Hive, the Gamma girls, Miss Norm, Miranda! I’ll always have this to remember them by… and the time I spent in the land of no tears.”

Themes and further comment

I keep on comparing Jinty stories with other media items: Children of Edenford with The Stepford Wives, Almost Human with Superman. Not without reason – this revisioning of  stories from elsewhere was an acknowledged policy of girls’ comics, as Pat Mills explained to me back in 2005. Well, this story is nothing so much as Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s sf classic, done schoolgirl-style. The future is cold, regimented, divested of family feeling, inhuman; the people in it are divided into superior types and inferior “rejects” (even the Alpha and Gamma terminology is taken from Brave New World).

However, the main point of the story is picked up in the word “elitism” that Mills mentions in that interview. Like “Children of Edenford”, the newcomer is faced with a group that creates and values a certain set of élite qualities, though the specific qualities are different in this story, focusing as they do more on physical perfection. Protagonist Cassy is fired up by the injustice of this; her response to this society is not just selfishly wanting the sympathetic response she was used to in her previous world, but to tear down the whole evil structure – a true class warrior response. (In fact, although her normal world is much more comfortable for her, it also did her few favours by not making her challenge herself in the way that she is clearly capable of, not that she would necessarily have seen it that way.) Cassy’s journey from selfish manipulator to crusader is quick: in the first episode she is shown cannily and coldly getting her own way, but as early as the second episode she is already thinking of the wider picture (she comforts one of the crying four-year-old new Hive entrants by giving her a doll).

Again as with “Edenford” and other stories of this kind, some of the interest is in the sheer outrageousness of how far the writer is prepared to ladle it on. The future girls are called ‘Perfecta’ and ‘Divina’; they take showers in icy-cold water; the girls wear big As or Gs on their clothes to denote their status. This verve moves the story on quickly, still including touches of realism, such as the bitchy relations between the lower-class Gamma girls, who have no-one but each other to pick at. If you are picky, there are indeed plot holes to poke at. How did we get from our current soft-hearted society to the future hard-nosed one? Does the setup apply across the world, and if so what will happen given the collapse of the hive society at the end of the story? (And if it wasn’t world-wide then what happened in terms of collaboration between different types of society?) And most of all, how can it be that positive human emotions such as the love shown between Miranda and her mother is at all sustainable, even in hiding, in this repressive set-up? These are however side-issues that don’t occur as you avidly read through this exciting story.

Unlike almost all other Jinty stories, in this case we know both the artist and the writer. Pat Mills is well-known for writing science fiction and anti-establishment stories, so it comes as little surprise to assign his name to this story. Artist Guy Peeters has a distinctive style that makes it easy to link his uncredited art to the stories he did later on when credits were published. I would say that this is one of Peeters’ best works, with varied layouts, expressive features on the characters, and a solid depiction of the uncaring future society. It is little surprise to me that this story was shortlisted in Pam’s Poll for readers to vote on a reprint of, nor that it should have emerged a winner.

Gertie Grit, the Hateful Brit! (1976)

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Publication: 9/10/76-22/1/77

Artist: Paul White

Writer: unknown

Every girls’ comic has humour strips. Many of these centre around klutzy, bungling girls who get into scrapes of some sort or another, such as The Jinx from St Jonah’s. But Gertie Grit is one humour strip which is quite unique in Jinty, for it also has time travel, magic, historical periods, and an unlovely heroine with a bad temper but full of beans and character. And it is drawn by an artist whose style you are far more likely to see in a funny comic, and an artist who was not on the regular Jinty team. Guest artists are always guaranteed to make a story more of a standout, for it made a refreshing break from the regular team.

Gertie Grit hails from Brummagonia in Roman Britain, in the time of Queen Boadicea. She is a hefty, plain girl with freckles and scruffy black hair, with a bad temper and a talent for making – or getting into trouble. From the look of it, she is the black sheep of the family, to the extent of having black hair while her parents and sister are blond (this will be seen again in Jinty‘s “Black Sheep of the Bartons“).

However, Gertie may have a sour, grumpy disposition but, despite the title, you cannot really find her hateful. In fact, you do have to admire what a pugnacious kid she is, who knows how to put up a fight: “I don’t come from Boadicea’s tribe for nothin’!” During the course of her story, we see that Gertie is not as ghastly, gruesome or hateful as the story would have us believe. She has her good points, which she shows in the moments where she tries to be helpful or stand up to bullies. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it doesn’t and she ends up making things worse.

But on with how it all unfolds. One day Gertie steals a pendant from Druid Caractacus, but she gets more than she bargained for when she finds the pendant is a time travel device.  Off she goes on time travel adventures, with a blond wig belonging to her sister Claudia in tow, and the wig becomes a running gag in many of her adventures. The pendant keeps dropping Gertie off in various time periods. With one exception, where Gertie visits a future period, these are all historical periods. And during her visit, Gertie changes the course of history through some bungling or interfering of one sort or another. For example, she unwittingly starts the Great Fire of London when using the oven at Pudding Lane to treat Claudia’s wig, but forgets to shut the oven door. At Pompeii she starts the Vesuvius eruption by using too much magic powder that a witch gave her. Her stops in history also cause the French Revolution, the Trojan War, the Battle of Hastings and an Ice Age among other time travel bungles.

Sometimes Gertie’s visit comes in genuinely helpful, such as teaching the people of Stonehenge how to make wheels, or saving a dog who does not want to be launched to Mars in a space programme. Sometimes she helps by accident, such as when she is rescued from the sea by the Spanish Armada, but ends up helping the English instead, or unwittingly foils the Gunpowder Plot. Indeed, there are moments when Gertie gets quite cozy with her latest time period and would love to stay a while longer. But this never happens because Caractacus is always in pursuit of her to get his pendant back. And the moment he appears, Gertie makes a hasty exit to yet another time period. Well, of course you can’t get away with stealing from a druid.

So you can guess how it will end – when Caractacus finally catches up with Gertie. When it comes, Gertie is actually pleased to see him because she needs rescue from another jam – Stone Age people want to sacrifice her to their gods (pity the poor gods!). On the way back home, Caractacus and Gertie hit a time warp which de-ages them by ten years. By the time they arrive, Caractacus’s hair has regained its youthful colour while Gertie is now a baby. Caractacus gives Gertie back to her parents, and Claudia is delighted to have her wig back. Caractacus tells the parents to make a better job of bringing Gertie up. Good luck to them – even as a baby, Gertie looks horrid. But for us readers, there were always loads of laughs out of Gertie Grit, the (however you saw her) Brit!