- Malice In Wonderland– M&J: #01 (18 May 1991) – #08 (06 July 1991)
- Artist: Oliver Passingham
Becky Shaw lives in seaside town, Seahaven, when Summer ends the town grows quiet as all the holidaymakers going home. One of the big attractions of the town is the amusement park Wonderland, run by Mrs Jolly. Becky and her friends see Mrs Jolly going around town trying to get the last few tourists to come visit Wonderland. Mrs Jolly has her dog Bones do tricks to attract customers and she isn’t happy when Becky’s dog, Poppy starts copying Bones old to do better than him. She can’t seem nasty in front of other people but soon she gets Becky on her own and offers to buy Poppy or even swap her own dog for him. Of course Becky isn’t having it, but then Mrs Jolly startles Poppy and she runs into Wonderland. Mrs Jolly tells Becky she better find her fast as Wonderland is closing in half hour and won’t open again until next year.
Becky is forced to leave when Wonderland closes but she goes back the next day and manages to get in. She is surprised that all the lights are on and the rides are operational. She finds Poppy but Mrs Jolly has gotten there first, Mrs Jolly says she will make a bargain with Becky – if she successfully goes on all her amusements she will get Poppy back. Becky doesn’t take her on up on this bargain, instead grabbing Poppy she escapes but is suddenly surrounded by fog, she thinks she makes it home only to discover it’s a model of her house and she is still in Wonderland. Becky has no choice but to except the challenge. Helping to keep Becky there are Mrs Jolly’s strange children, who all wear stripy scarves.
First Becky is led down a hall of mirrors and is scared by distorted image of herself. The image also scares Fey one of the young Jolly children, Mrs Jolly comforts her daughter and tells her things are not always as the seem in Wonderland. Becky uses this advice when playing a game of getting prize from animatronic cat that is now more vicious. She discovers everything in Wonderland is now more dangerous and realistic looking than when the amusements were opened for the summer. Another example of this is the Little Red Riding Hood amusement where she has to avoid the wolves, which are lot scarier now. She gets through, and Mrs Jolly congratulates Becky for passing one test, then her daughter Tarith corrects her reminding her Becky has passed two tests now. Becky thinks she may have an ally in Tarith, but she notices strangely that Mrs Jolly seems to be scared of her daughter and she begins to wonder who is really in charge.
Tarith seems friendly begins to quiz Becky about her life, but then Becky finds what ever she tells Tarith makes her forget those memories. The memory stealing seems to be connected to a song on jukebox. At the same time Becky still has to go through the challenges the Jollys’ set her. She is led back to the hall of mirrors, she fails at the task, to escape within a set time. Then Tarith appears to help, Becky is startled to see her reflection has Tarith’s face and she has Beckys. She suspects Tarith’s claims that she will help her to escape, actually means Tarith will take her place and Becky will be left trapped. Not seeing any other choice for the moment, she agrees to take Tarith to her house. Again fog appears and Becky knows they haven’t escaped and are back in the model of her house. Becky things back to Mrs Jolly saying things aren’t what they seem, she stands up to Tarith saying everything is an illusion. She walks pass the Jollys saying they aren’t really. A ghostly Tarith comes after her, reaching for her… at that point a hand wakes her up. It’s her mom, it ha all been a dream. Becky fell asleep after playing Jolly Families card game. Becky is worried when she there is no Tarith card, she wonders if she was possibly real, but then Poppy appears chewing a card, which is the Tarith card. Becky is relieved the nightmare is over.
From the story title the ending shouldn’t be such a surprise that it’s all a dream. The story does have a sort of surreal feeling about it, knowing it’s a dream, it makes sense – rules change, Becky goes home only to actually find she’s still in Wonderland, Jollys popping up sudenly in the fog and the changing villains. The art by Oliver Passingham fits this well, as he has drawn a lot of creepy stories and he captures the changing nature of wonderland well. All the characters are very distinctive, Mrs Jolly looks like the villain with some exaggerated features she is like a caricature, meanwhile Tarith the real villain, looks pretty but he captures intensity with her eyes and creepy sequences like the hall of mirrors.
The shift from Mrs Jolly to Tarith as villain is nicely done. Mrs Jolly at first shown to be nasty and scary, is shown to be more sympathetic as story goes on, she cares for her children, as shown when she comforts Fey and is scared of Tarith. Tarith when introduced as a possible ally to Becky, also has some sympathetic characteristics as it seems she just wants to escape like Becky, of course the problem is what she is willing to do to achieve that goal – taking over Becky’s life! The ending with it all being a dream would have been more intriguing if they left it with the Tarith card missing. This could leave the reader wondering if Tarith was some supernatural being trying to get at Becky through her dreams. Instead the story was all wrapped up with happy ending, which I’m sure readers were relieved to see!
It’s a short story, only 8 issues, and because of it all being a dream the ending can seem a bit abrupt but it still works well. It would have been interesting to see Becky trying more of the twisted amusements, I was reminded of Goosebumps book “One Day in Horrorland” where kids were trapped in a twisted theme park, although that book came out after this story. So it is a popular concept that has popped up in other places!