Balloon of Doom

  • Balloon of Doom –  Bunty:  #1468 (01 March 1986) – #1489 (26 July 1986)
  • Reprinted – Lucky Charm #3
  • Artist:  Robert MacGillivray

Plot

Katherine Wilson’s younger sister, Sarah, arrives home one day with a sinister looking balloon. Sarah describes the balloon as a wizard, and it makes Katherine very uneasy to be around. Some strange weather starts to occur soon after the Balloon’s arrival. The family have to evacuate their house for a time after flooding hits the town. Katherine is the only person to suspect the Balloon in these strange weather occurrences.  She tries to get rid of the Balloon, but finds that she can’t burst it like a normal balloon, and she ends up getting in trouble when she tries. Such as when she catapults a stone at it, the stone bounces off and breaks a church window. Her attempts to burst it only anger the Balloon and it retaliates against her.

When the Wilson’s return home after the flooding  things don’t get any better. Katherine keeps having dreams about a genie, but she doesn’t understand how they can help her. Sarah is turning into a greedy and malicious child. She gets the Balloon to steal a bike for her and it is implied that the Balloon to set fire to the bike shop because the owner wasn’t nice to her.  She also threatens Katherine, because with the “wizard” she can do whatever she wants.

 ballon of doom_01

About halfway into the serial there is shift in the story when Sarah gets sick and Katherine agrees to look after the Balloon. Soon Katherine actually begins to feel sorry for it and though it continues to cause destruction, she believes it isn’t evil. Part of this change of heart is after it saves her life. In the meantime, Katherine’s cousin Nita has come to stay. She is a bit of a Know-It-All, and she is suspicious that Katherine is hiding something. The Balloon seems to have an aversion to bottles, so Nita comes up with her theory that there is a poltergeist in the house, after several bottles smash while she’s holding them. Katherine accidentally discovers that tying a knot in the Balloon leaves it powerless, but Nita while snooping around, unties it and is carried off by the Balloon.

ballon of doom_05

Katherine goes to stay with her aunt in London, while there she visits a professor for advice. Katherine has the Balloon string knotted again, to keep it powerless but the professor unties it and is carried off by the Balloon. Later at her aunts flat, Katherine loses her temper with the Balloon, after he smashes a precious vase of her aunts. It fixes the vase, so Katherine again thinks it can’t be all bad.  Katherine gets arrested, due to suspicion of involvement with the professor’s disappearance. The Balloon causes more trouble by stealing a plane with the Prime Minister on board. He then breaks Katherine out of jail and she finally gets to communicate with the Balloon, previous to this it had started writing messages, but now it actually talks. Apparently it hasn’t spoken before as “words are weapons of your world”. Katherine points out all the destruction it’s caused, it apparently can’t help the destruction because it is in conflict with our world’s elements. It needs to be attached to a human and not be rejected to stay in control. It does try and redeem itself by saving a family trapped in a fire.

ballon of doom_06

It then takes her to a mountain where Nita, the professor and the Prime Minister and all the other passengers are all safe. The Balloon is actually a little alien, who’s ship crashed on the way to Venus. His whole alien race were relocating in a small ship filled with bottles. He took the form of the balloon to fit in on earth, but if he got trapped in any bottle he would be helpless, which is why he was scared of bottles. He needs to trust  Katherine to put him in the ships spare phial and lock it into the correct position to re-power the ship. Katherine does this and he flies away, thanking her. A rescue helicopter arrives soon after that.

ballon of doom_07

Thoughts

The art is great, the balloon really feels threatening, especially in the larger panels when it is given more space. Often the Balloon takes up the majority of the panel, making it look like a very looming threat. Also very effective, is in its original printing, the use of red on the balloon really makes it stand out. Something of note is the reprinted Lucky Charm version is just all black and white and there are some slight changes. Obviously the recap boxes are gone as it is told in one story, but there is also some dialogue missing as well, nothing major, but interesting to note the differences. One example of this is when Katherine is thinking “It’s following us! I knew it was evil. But where is it from?” the next line; “And what is it’s sinister plan?” is left out.

ballon of doom_02

The first half of the story does great at building up the balloon as a serious threat. Even Katherine’s dreams about a genie are quite creepy. In her dream she tries to make a wish and the genie tells her he can’t grant any good wishes as he is an evil genie. Parallel to this Sarah has the Balloon grant her wishes but these involve stealing and hurting dogs! The Balloon continues to look sinister and cause destruction.  So after all that has happened in the first part of the story, it’s a bit jarring to have him turn into a misunderstood character that we are supposed to feel sorry for. When he attacks a helicopter with Katherine in it, his expression looking down on the wreckage is clearly him looking pleased. The pilot dies in this crash, so basically by the end of the story we are meant to sympathise with a killer!

ballon of doom_03

All his actions are supposed to be explained away, as being in conflict with earth’s element makes him destructive. But this again doesn’t explain Sarah’s actions.  If a human grounds him, then why was she acting so malicious? Either Sarah was too young to ground him and was being influenced by his (unintentional) destructive nature or else she is just a brat on her own! There is no resolution for this plot point, as suddenly Sarah gets a tummy ache and is never seen again.

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Some other plot issues, is the Balloon/alien’s unwillingness to communicate at first, with the vague reasoning that words are destructive, when he’s been going around destroying houses and killing people. Also towards the end, the Balloon takes the plane with the Prime Minister which really seems unnecessary. The only thing it contributes to the story, is that the rescue helicopter at the end finds Katherine and the others after seeing the plane on the mountain. I’m sure there was another way around getting Katherine and Nita rescued.

It’s some of those plot points that makes me think that initially the story was going in a different direction and the writer/editor decided to change it partway through for some reason. I do find it amusing that such an ominous looking balloon turns out to be a very cute looking alien! I do like a lot of the bizarre elements in this story, the balloon itself, the genie dreams, strange weather and the time the balloon left Katherine in the Sahara desert! The first half of the story is definitely the strongest part but it is still a good read and like I said before the art is great throughout.

4 thoughts on “Balloon of Doom

  1. I’ve been curious about this story ever since I first came across the title. It sounds like it suffers from the malaise of serial storytelling: making it up as you go along sometimes means losing the plot. And that’s to say nothing of editorial interference.

  2. It was probably a change of writer or pressure from the editor that brought about the jarring change in direction.

    And that certainly has you wondering how they actually planned the writing of these serials. Did the serials follow a plotted storyline, or were they made up as things went along, or did both things happen? The story behind the writing of Tammy’s “Star Struck Sister” is one clue. The original writer wrote a good pilot episode, but then “choked” (got stuck). So the writing was handed over to Jenny McDade, a complete greenhorn at writing serials. But she did so well they kept her on for the whole story.

  3. When you find that even big budget TV shows like Lost or Battlestar Galactica didn’t have a proper solution worked out to the mysteries they set up, and had to scrabble to fit together all the disparate elements late in the day, it’s not a huge surprise that comic serials sometimes fall into the same trap.

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