Catch the Cat! [1980]

Published: #1148 (12 January 1980) – #1164 (03 May 1980)

Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin and “Phoenix” for scans

Plot (long)

In Nazi-occupied France in World War II, Marie Bonnet is despised by her classmates, particularly her ex-friends Josee and Burnetta, for being friendly with the enemy. They do not realise it is part of Marie’s cover for her secret double life as the town’s resident Resistance fighter, a costumed heroine (or hero, as they always think) known as “The Cat”. The origin of “The Cat” can be found here at a discussion of her original 1975-1976 story. This story is the first sequel, and a second followed in 1986.

The story opens with an act of defiance that hearkens back to The Cat’s debut, where she switches the swastika flag with the French flag on the tallest building in town. Now, at German headquarters, The Cat switches the swastika flag with a flag that bears her signature – and tricks the Nazis into unfurling it – and daubs a message on the wall: “France Will Be Free”. The townsfolk laugh with glee while the Commandant fumes. However, he has no inkling that he is going to be spared The Cat for a while.

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It all starts when Henri, another Resistance fighter, leaves out the signal for The Cat to call. He tells her to warn Raphael Slane that the Nazis are going to raid his artshop, as Slane must escape with all twelve of his paintings. (Considering that Slane is a scientist as well as an artist, one suspects there is more to the paintings than meets the eye.) Unfortunately The Cat arrives too late to warn Slane; he and his paintings are captured and sent to Berlin. At a Resistance meeting, it is revealed that (sure enough) there are technical drawings on the backs of the paintings. Together they make up a blueprint for a German secret weapon, a flying bomb. The Resisters are trying to get the blueprint to the Allies. The Nazis are not aware of the secret, but the paintings are to be distributed among high-ranking Nazi officials. It’s up to The Cat to track down the paintings one by one and bring back the segments for the blueprint. Fortunately it’s school holidays for Marie, so she can devote the time to her quest in Germany while telling her parents she’s staying with her aunt.

The Cat’s adventures in retrieving the paintings are as follows:

Painting One

A General Vandienst of Berlin has acquired it. The Cat has to break into his house to retrieve the painting, and it’s not easy as the house is heavily guarded. The Cat manages to get the painting, but runs into trouble when a bombing raid sets the house on fire, and Vandienst has discovered the theft and raised the alarm. Both exits are blocked, so she heads for the roof. Unfortunately the Germans see her climb and realise she is The Cat. Now they have the building surrounded and The Cat is trapped on the roof, which is heating up fast from fire. She manages to find a bridge to the next building but is spotted by a guard. Fortunately he neglects to keep an eye on her while getting reinforcements, so she hides under the bridge. She then slips into the building and changes back to Marie so she can just walk past the guards.

Painting Two

Baron Willie Von Kutch has acquired it and he lives in Blurst, Bavaria. Marie gets a bicycle to travel there (cycling all the way from Berlin to Bavaria?). When she arrives, she is dismayed to encounter another heavily guarded fortress. Nonetheless, she succeeds in breaking in. On the way she helps herself to a piece of cake as she’s hungry. Oops – the cake was meant for an honoured guest! At least the theft only arouses embarrassment, not suspicion. The Cat locates the picture and (unwisely, as it turns out) leaves her signature after she steals it. Then she discovers the painting had been tripped with an alarm, which now goes off and the guards are alerted. A German cuts the rope The Cat is using to make her escape, which sends her diving into the river. Changing back into Marie, she manages to cycle away – though she ends up doing some dangerous cycling to get away from a roadblock – and then jump a train to the next person on the list.

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Painting Three

It has been acquired by Admiral Dantz, who lives on a huge battleship in Kiel harbour. Again The Cat has to dodge some stiff patrols at the harbour. The Cat is spotted as she gets aboard and the alarm is raised. Despite this she manages to steal the painting and again leaves her signature (is that wise?). On the getaway she is spotted again and it’s another chase from trigger-happy German guards. Afterwards Marie posts the first three paintings to Henri, who receives them safely.

Unfortunately Marie does not realise the Nazis have now caught on to the common denominator of The Cat stealing Raphael Slane paintings and leaving her signature at each theft. The Gestapo now realise The Cat is after the Raphael Slane paintings and assign a Colonel Ratzt and his aide Herman to the case. Fortunately Ratzt does not check out the paintings more closely for clues as to why The Cat is targeting them, so at least the secret is still safe. Instead, he goes for setting traps around the remaining paintings to catch The Cat.

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Paintings Four and Five

Both have been acquired by a Judge Hessler, who lives in Bonn. The Cat breaks in while Hessler is out horse riding. The Cat manages to uplift the paintings and leave her signature. Unfortunately she does not realise Ratzt and Herman are calling on everyone who owns a Raphael Slane painting – and they have just arrived at Hessler’s. Ratzt discovers the theft and orders reinforcements to surround the place. After a chase in which Hessler joins in, The Cat eventually escapes by hiding in the boot of Ratzt’s car.

Painting Six

Ratzt now heads for Brokenheim, where Mayor Krinter has one of the paintings. Ratzt plans to set a trap there for The Cat, but he does not know The Cat is listening in from inside the car boot. In Brokenheim The Cat sneaks out of the boot. A woman sees this, but mistakes The Cat for an animal Ratzt locked in the boot and tells him off. (Wow, she must be one gutsy lady as it is extremely dangerous to criticise a Gestapo officer!) Now Ratzt knows how The Cat evaded him at Hessler’s and rouses the authorities in town for a man, er, Cat hunt.

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Worse, Ratzt has Krinter’s house completely surrounded, which will not make it easy for The Cat to steal the painting. Ratzt demands to know where the painting is, and does not believe Krinter when he says it is not at his house. The Cat overhears and realises Krinter means it is at the town hall. She makes her way there, steals the painting and leaves her signature, but knows Ratzt won’t be far behind. So at a department store she changes into some ordinary clothes from a rack and takes a new bag for holding the painting. Then some of the staff arrive, which forces her to hide. When she tries to slip away they spot her and think she is a shoplifter, so she has to push a trolley at them and then slide down an escalator to get away from them. She has the advantage of everyone assuming The Cat is a man, but the security Ratzt has roused is too tight. So it’s back to the suction pads to get out of the department store.

Painting Seven

Painting seven is not far away, and it is in the ownership of Major Staffle of the SS at the Kruse army barracks. However, Major Staffle – along with everyone else who still has a Raphael Slane painting – has received warning from Ratzt about The Cat. Staffle takes his warning seriously: 20 men guarding his barracks around the clock, two guards staying in his quarters, nobody is to leave or enter his room, and anyone who tries is to be shot.

The Cat breaks into the army barracks using a trapeze trick. She manages to get past Staffle’s security, take the painting and leave her signature, but the guards are battering at the door she locked. They burst in, but see no sign of The Cat; she misdirected them into looking the wrong way while slipping out behind their backs. Several more tricks from The Cat cause one very trigger-happy, jumping-the-gun goon to shoot up a lot of Major Staffle’s property! When Staffle sees the damage the goon has done he orders him to be locked up. However, The Cat is still stuck on the roof and there are guards swarming all around.

The Cat manages to hide in a storage sack that is being bundled aboard a truck. However, she gets a horrible shock when a goon starts bayoneting all the sacks in the truck! She narrowly escapes being skewered, but when she gets off the truck later she has a nasty cut on her hand. Luckily, she is picked up by a French girl named Eve, who is being forced to work on a German farm. Eve treats The Cat’s injury and provides her with new clothes. These are male clothes as Eve assumes The Cat is male like everyone else, even though she does see The Cat’s face.

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The latest consignment of paintings is soon dispatched to Henri. However, he has discovered something that he can’t warn The Cat about – Ratzt has ordered the last four Raphael Slane paintings to be secured in the vault of a Berlin bank.

Writing/editing error: there are twelve paintings and The Cat has stolen seven, so there should be five paintings remaining, not four. Somebody on the Bunty team was not counting.

The Last Four (Should be Five) Paintings

The Cat discovers the transfer to the Berlin bank vault when she tries to steal one of the paintings from one Field Marshall Von Borrel. So it’s back to Berlin where she started. The Cat is no stranger to breaking into banks, but after sussing out the security she decides it is too strong for her Cat tricks. So she goes in posing as a civilian and manages to slip into the vault, where she uplifts the paintings. When she gets locked in the vault she starts a fire to bring the fire brigade to open it. While they do so, she slips out under cover of the smoke.

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The Cat has already changed into her costume and now proceeds to climb up the wall outside. Ratzt spots her and uses a fireman’s ladder to chase her. He catches up and holds her at gunpoint. To save herself, The Cat throws one of the paintings at Ratzt, which causes him to lose his footing on the ladder. What happens to him because of this is not recorded.

Afterwards

The whole of Berlin is now looking for The Cat. She changes back into Marie, knowing the guards will not be looking for a girl because they always assume The Cat is a man. As her task is done anyway, she now heads back to France on the train. At Henri’s, The Cat brings the final paintings she has and explains how she lost one. The Resistance assemble the pieces they have and keep their fingers crossed the loss is not serious. Fortunately it isn’t as the lost painting was a corner piece, and what they have provides all the essentials.

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School holidays are now over, so it’s back to business as usual for Marie Bonnet aka The Cat. The final panel leaves Marie feeling so sad at the usual taunts from Josee and Burnetta, and she can only take solace in the thought that one day they will understand why she is so ‘friendly’ to the enemy.

Thoughts

The story structure deviates from the first Cat story, in which The Cat stumbled into or created assorted escapades and attacks on the Nazis. It was also a story where The Cat was new and becoming established in the field of resistance work. This sequel, however, resembles the story structure followed in the Bunty PSL The Cat on the Trail of the Flying Bomb: it opens with The Cat committing an individual act of rebellion that is specifically aimed at annoying the Commandant, but the rest of the story is devoted to helping the Resistance in a mission against the Nazis. Strangely, both the PSL and this sequel both have The Cat and the Resistance trying to foil the development of a German flying bomb. Is it coincidence or the same writer?

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Making the sequel a mission story gives it a specific focus and more structure. Instead of The Cat going off on all sorts of escapades, attacks and narrow escapes with the Nazis, she has just one task: track down and retrieve the paintings before the Nazis discover their secret. Making her mission even more dangerous and exciting is that she’s plunged straight into the heart of enemy territory – Nazi Germany itself. She has to depend on her wits, gymnastics skills and suction pads even more than before because there is nobody to help her. There are no French sympathisers or Resistance fighters available, except one she stumbles across. Everyone has to be regarded as a real or potential enemy this time. The Cat is completely on her own for this one.

The unfamiliar territory also makes The Cat’s M.O. even harder than usual. For example, The Cat finds it harder to get out of the window of the room she renting than her bedroom window. The Berlin houses are further apart than the ones in her hometown, so she can’t just leap from building as she could back home.

On the other hand, the change of scene is quite refreshing and makes a change from all the familiar scenes of Marie’s hometown. It must be good for Marie to have a break from the bullying of her classmates too. Still, it does look a bit difficult writing to her parents regularly as they asked her to. Even if she squeezed in some letters, how will she be able to explain the German postmarks – her aunt took her on a tour of Germany or something?

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As the mission gets underway, The Cat does not seem to realise that the mission she’s on requires extreme stealth and discretion – which means no blatant evidence like leaving her signature. It’s fine when she commits acts of rebellion against the Nazis, but this is a mission where she must de-emphasise who is doing the work as much as possible. Otherwise there will be patterns that would eventually have the Nazis figure out what’s going on. The Cat must take the blame for the difficulties Ratzt creates for her in the story by tipping the Nazis off to what’s going on by leaving her signature at each theft all the time. The Cat should thank her lucky stars Ratzt did not think to investigate why she was stealing the paintings. If he had, he would certainly have discovered the blueprints.

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Colonel Ratzt is a more interesting villain than the colourless, flat Commandant of Marie’s hometown. For one thing, he has a given name while the Commandant is just “The Commandant”. Second, he is Gestapo, which would arouse far more repugnance than the Commandant would. So readers would be really rooting for this Nazi’s downfall and cheer Marie far more lustily. Third, there is always something endearing about a guy who wears glasses, particular in the hands of an artist like Hugh Thornton-Jones. And when it’s combined with a character that is both a Nazi and Gestapo, it really raises a smile. Fourth is Ratzt actually catching up to The Cat and pulling a gun on her – something the Commandant has not had much luck in doing. The Cat can only escape by making a sacrifice – one of the paintings – which could unseat the whole point of her entire mission. It is a brilliant piece of storytelling that delivers far more punch and dramatic tension than if The Cat had succeeded in bringing all the paintings to Henri. And fifth is the disturbing final panel of Ratzt. He has lost his footing on the ladder and yelling and screaming in panic – but Bunty leaves the final fate of Ratzt up to the readers’ imagination. Did he go kersplat on the pavement, in which case The Cat is responsible for a man’s death? It is an unsettling thought with which to leave readers pondering on.

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