- The Secrets of Charlie Chatterbox – Bunty: #1603 (1 Oct 1988) – #1615 (24 Dec 1988)
- Artist: Norman Lee
Fiona Parker is given an old ventriloquist dummy named Charlie. Only Charlie can really talk and he convinces Fiona to start performing with him. Money is tight for her and her mother, who is a widow. Mrs. Parker is working all hours to provide for them, so Fiona sees this as an opportunity to help out. Things don’t run smoothly for Fiona when Charlie causes problems by insulting people. Also she is worried as he seems to have an agenda of his own.
They make an enemy of a wealthy influential woman, Mrs. Grant, when Charlie insults her. When Mrs. Grant tries to get her own back, Charlie soon puts her in her place as he knows some of her family secrets. Charlie is eager to tour about the old theatres, and when Fiona catches the eye of agent Ted Alcorn, they get their opportunity to tour. Fiona starts to suspect Charlie is up to something when she finds him rooting around Alcorn’s office.
He also scares Fiona at times, and he comes across as threatening. She is particularly cautious after an old stage hand, Bob, appears to have been attacked and Charlie has blood on his sleeve. Fiona gains some advantage with Charlie as she realises he needs her to carry him around. Then they get an opportunity to appear on TV, while on TV he sings his special song and it appears to have affect on another doll Daisy-Belle, who is owned by two old ladies. Meanwhile Mike Harris, a reporter, is investigating Charlie, after a magician Solesto who tried to steal Charlie, and who claimed Charlie could talk. Harris follows Charlie, but Charlie gets the better of him locks him in a shed. He goes for Daisy Belle who is delighted to see him. He wants Fiona to perform with both of them. Instead Fiona decides to retire and gives Charlie to the old ladies. Mrs. Parker has put away enough money to open up a shop, so money won’t be a problem any more. Mike not being able to report on the talking dummy, writes a “fictional” novel about Charlie, which gets turned into a film. He shares the profits with Fiona and also ends up marrying her mother.
This is a story that can go in the classic list. It is mysterious and creepy, with good characters and nice atmospheric art. The story was published around the same time as horror film Child’s Play came out. The film has Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray a serial killer possess a doll. So while there is no serial killer aspects to this story there does seem to be a few similarities. But The Secret of Charlie Chatterbox is actually the scarier of the two and definitely the better story.
There is a slow build up to what it is Charlie is after, you also don’t know what he is capable of doing to get what he wants and Fiona definitely doesn’t know whether to trust him. He is quite nasty to Fiona at times, calling her stupid and threatening/blackmailing her. The readers do see some sort of a redemptive side to him when the old stage hand sees Charlie walking around, he has a heart attack and Charlie tries to help him. Charlie calls an ambulance, but he does let Fiona believe it was him that attacked him to keep her doing what he wants.
He makes trouble for Fiona with other people on the theatre tour, being rude to them. Charlie also keeps Fiona going along with things by making her feel guilty about her mother working all the time. When Fiona gives out to him about his rudeness, he makes things difficult by not speaking on stage. In the end though he has a rough manner, his objective is to find his love Daisy Belle. He would not really go through with any threats.
The story is developed well. There is a nice progression in the story. Even hints of what Charlie is after, such as when he gets upset when Fiona says she doesn’t care who he used to sing his song to. The character of Mrs Grant and her daughter could have been the typical snobs and antagonists throughout the whole thing, instead she is quickly dealt with and the plot moves on focusing more on Charlie. Mrs. Grant after being insulted, fires Mrs. Parker so you are glad to see her get her comeuppance when Charlie reveals her family secrets on stage. But it also shows Charlie’s nasty streak and that he obviously has a lot of knowledge and history.
The dynamic between Charlie and Fiona is well done. Fiona is doing the gig to help her mother and sometimes Charlie scares her. But at the same time she isn’t afraid to argue with him and point out his rudeness. She also gets the better of him at times like when he won’t speak she starts singing his song to get a reaction out of him. Charlie can be scary particularly in the early issues. But he also is very set on achieving his goal. So rather than any real maliciousness on his part, he is just trying to reunite with his love, which sometimes makes him oblivious to others around him. Its interesting to see how Fiona and Charlie interact together.
While Fiona and Charlie have the main dynamic, side characters do get a bit of time too. Mike is an ambitious reporter, knowing he could have a great story on his hand, but he is also a nice guy he is actually concerned about ruining Fiona’s career if he tells Charlie’s story. Eddie and Liz are acting as chaporones to Fiona, they seem to mostly be there to get the brunt of Charlie’s rudeness, but they do try to help Fiona out.
How Charlie and Daisy Belle could talk in the first place is never explained. They touch on it in the last issue but it is a bit of a cop out as they say we’ll never know!
But on the other hand the focus of the story is more concerned with Charlie finding Daisy Belle and his relationship with Fiona. So I guess there really isn’t a need to know why he can talk and it can be fun to come up with theories.
So my verdict is this was a good strong story, nice build up to its conclusion, a good mystery and creepy in parts. It is also well drawn, the framing and use of shadows to make Charlie more imposing despite his size, is good and the character of Charlie should be remembered as one of the greats.