In our sixth volume of Misty Short Stories we turn to the creepy crawlies that were used in Misty’s short stories. You know – spiders, insects, larvae and slimy things that are guaranteed to make your skin crawl, cause plagues of pests, and set off phobias in a lot of people.
This entry is on picture stories from the regular Misty comic only. So insect/spider-themed text stories and stories from the holiday specials and annuals will be excluded.
Naturally, spiders have to lead off the list. Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, seems to be the most primeval of all the fears of creepy crawlies, and Misty herself used the phobia as a great source for plot material. Spiders were a heavy presence in Misty, particularly in her best-remembered spider story, “The Black Widow”.
Red Knee – White Terror!
Artist: John Richardson
Writer: Pat Mills
Reprint: Best of Misty Monthly #1
Andrea Gray buys bananas from the market, not realising the poisonous Red Knee spider she keeps hearing on the news is in the bag of bananas as well. In a black running gag, Andrea keeps having a lot of unknowing close shaves with the spider and unwittingly gives it a good habitat while listening to news bulletins about the spider and its habitat preferences. There is also an in-joke when a Professor being interviewed about the spider is named Mills. In another twist of black humour, Andrea says she can’t stand spiders and won’t be caught going near one – and all while she has been very close to the poisonous one.
Then Andrea decides to have a bath. While in the bath her brother attacks her with a toy spider for a joke, and she throws it back at him (this part was an editorial toning down from the original draft). Thinking she is finally safe from poisonous spiders. Andrea relaxes in the bath and her hand is dangling down on the floor – but the real spider is approaching it!
Dressed to Kill!
Artist: Jaume Rumeu
Reprint: Misty Presents: The Jaume Rumeu Collection (2021)
Nancy goes to Doris Day’s fancy “beasts” dress party, which was inspired by the legend of a black magic cult who could turn themselves into huge insects “spiders an’ that” (hang on, spiders are not insects!). Doris made a rule that the costumes must be homemade. But Nancy is cheating, first by hiring her costume (a fly), and second, by bullying Doris into giving her first prize later on. She sees Brenda Foster, who is dressed as a spider, slip into another room. She goes in to get revenge on Brenda for telling on her at school. But Brenda advances on Nancy, saying she wanted her to follow. Then huge spider legs close in on Nancy…
Afterwards, Brenda rejoins the party and everyone admires her spider costume. She declines an offering of food, saying she has already eaten.
The Secret of Lan-Shi
Artist: John Richardson
Petra Harris buys her brother Paul a broken mechanical lion from a junk shop for his birthday. The store owner says Lan-Shi broke the mechanism to stop the lion from prowling. Paul also finds a note inside saying: “Beware the lion’s roar. His teeth are sharp.” Despite this, he gets it roaring and prowling again. But Petra finds the lion’s roars loud and terrifying, and there are reports on the news about something attacking and killing animals. Then the lion goes for Petra herself – but something stops it dead in its tracks. They find a spider slipped inside the lion and its webbing gummed up the works. Petra says she is going to have that lion destroyed.
In the first two spider stories, the spider was an agent of horror. So it’s a quite a reversal to have it the hero of the hour. And it’s just a humble, ordinary, honest-to-goodness spider. Nothing at all supernatural about it.
Two obvious reasons for making bees an instrument of horror. First, they have stings. Second, they swarm. But where a Misty protagonist is concerned, how the bees swarm and sting depends very much if she is on the right side of them.
Artist: Isidre Mones
Honey Bell and her father are beekeepers, and Honey has a natural affinity with the bees. Dad tells Honey a lot of old superstitions and beliefs about bees, including that bees are said to understand their owners and even foretell the future. When the father dies an uncle arrives to take care of Honey, but something is not right about him. Honey falls in love with Bill O’Casey, the new gardener, and wants to marry him, but the uncle is opposed to the match. At the altar Bill is suddenly arrested for theft. Honey believes he’s innocent, and says the bees believe it too. Then the bees attack the uncle, and he confesses he framed Bill because he gambled away the money Honey was to inherit at her wedding. He is arrested, and Bill and Honey get married.
The old adage: if you treat animals right, they will treat you right, and will repay your kindness. Even bees, it would seem.
Artist: Josep Gual
Sally and Gina are sunbathing. Sally wishes she could be a queen so she could do it all the time. Then she swats a bee, which happens to be a queen bee. Her hive takes revenge by collecting ingredients from flowers for a drug to turn Sally into a new queen for the hive, and inject them into her with a mass “sting” operation. So Sally gets her wish to be a queen – in the wrong way, of course.
This story has been discussed in Misty Short Stories I, so there will be less discussion of the story here. Just one point will be discussed: we’re not quite sure how Sally being the queen of the hive is supposed to work. All they do is shrink her to bee size and take her into the hive. But she’s still human, not a bee. How the heck is she supposed to lay eggs for the hive? It would have worked better to turn her into an actual bee, with her mind trapped inside her insect body.
3: Slimy Things
Misty had only one offering in this area, but it’s one you don’t forget in a hurry:
House of Snails
Artist: Jorge Badia Romero
Sally’s father is trying to breed intelligent snails, and they’re all over the place in his house. Everyone thinks he is crazy, including Sally. Sally suffers a lot of teasing because of Dad’s snail experiments, but Dad won’t listen, saying she will have the last laugh when he has proved his super-snails. Deciding enough is enough, she smashes up his work and make it look like vandals, but Dad is devastated. The snails take revenge by tripping Sally into the coal cellar. There they crawl up by the millions and overwhelm her. Weeks later, a policeman tells Dad to accept the worst about Sally’s mysterious disappearance. Dad remains convinced of the snails’ intelligence, but he doubts he will resume his experiments. He’s only sorry he could not convince Sally.
Of all Misty’s short stories, this must rank the highest on the “Eeww!” scale, with thousands, even millions of snails, crawling all over you and suffocating you by sheer numbers and slime. Yucch! And did Sally really deserve this fate? She did commit a bad act, but it was borne out of desperation and people bullying her over her father’s experiments. This makes for a very grim story indeed. We would have got more satisfaction if the snails had done it to the bullies instead. That way, Sally would have finally got the last laugh and realise her father was right after all.
Dad must also fall into the category of obsessive scientists who don’t realise they could be creating a monster with their insane experiments. In the end Dad discontinues his experiments, but the damage may have been done already.
Oh, surely not butterflies? Butterflies are beautiful, harmless things. Surely they don’t belong in a horror story? Actually, these two stories make two points about how butterflies can be incorporated into horror. First, you’re forgetting the other side of butterflies – caterpillars. Second, butterflies are related to moths, which are less pleasant and also leave a lot of holes.
Artist: Jose Ariza
A judge has delinquent Amanda sent to the country to live with her Aunt (as if that’s going to reform her!) as part of a suspended sentence. Amanda finds a necklace and refuses to hand it in for any owners to claim, saying “finders keepers”. The necklace gives Amanda the power to grow butterfly wings, which she uses to cause more trouble. In the night the owners come for the necklace, saying they are the keepers of the necklace and need the necklace so their children can evolve. Amanda refuses to hand the necklace over – “finders keepers!” – but then she breaks the necklace. For this, they punish Amanda by turning her into a hideous caterpillar.
Next time you think “finders keepers” when you find something, you might like to think again. If someone is looking for it, you are not much better than a thief.
The huge, horrible caterpillar Amanda becomes sure is repulsive. But it’s sad too, with her wide, terrified eyes and her voice crying in vain for help. Maybe Amanda will eventually become a beautiful butterfly. After all, she is a caterpillar, and caterpillars pupate.
The Ghost of the Butterfly Ballet
Artist: Jose Canovas
At Theatre Bartlett, Bartlett uses real butterflies to die in the last act in the Butterfly Ballet. Lead dancer Emma speaks out against the cruelty to the butterflies, but Bartlett is a cruel man and won’t stop because it is a real money spinner. Emma can’t get free of Bartlett either because of her contract. Emma releases Bartlett’s latest consignment of butterflies, but is surprised when a moth (looking bigger and prettier than most moths) settles in one of the jars instead and looks like it wants to stay there. Seeing this, Bartlett uses the moth in the act that night instead. But thousands of moths attack during the performance. They terrify everyone and send them running: “Moths! Ugly and fat! Their wings cold and clammy like the touch of winter!” They cause a fire that burns down Bartlett’s Theatre, never to be rebuilt, and Bartlett is ruined. The moths vanish as mysteriously as they came. Emma’s contract was destroyed in the fire, so she is now free of Bartlett too.
It’s appropriate that Bartlett gets a comeuppance that destroys his business and prevents him from rising again, where he could mistreat more employees and animals so he could make a profit. But one thing mars the story: there is no mechanism behind the moth revenge or explaining why the first moth came to begin with. All the other comeuppance stories here did have a mechanism of some sort behind the bug revenge (black magic, science gone wrong, drugs, folklore etc). This made the concept of creepy crawlies getting revenge even more credible because we understood both why and how they were able to do it. But here there is no explanation at all for why the moth suddenly showed up and then led the others in to attack the theatre. The title implies a ghost, but the story does not mention a ghost at all. So where the heck is the ghost?
5: Insect Collectors
The Purple Emperor
Artist: Isidre Mones
Betty is a very cold, cruel butterfly collector. She is obsessed with adding a Purple Emperor to her collection. While hunting for one she trips and hits her head. She hears pounding footsteps of a giant purple emperor monster who catches her in a net and puts her in a killing jar to suffocate and be added to his collection. Betty screams that she’s imagining it and she’ll wake up soon…
Artist: Isidre Mones
Gail desperately wants a good fossil. She tries to steal one from the museum but fails. She climbs a tree and gets covered in sap-like amber. It turns out she was just dreaming, but the dream has her even more determined to find an insect specimen preserved in amber. In her quest to find one she gets directed to a glacier where there are good ammonite fossils. However, she falls down a crevasse (cut across the glacier when she shouldn’t have) and gets trapped in ice. Untold years later, the fossilised Gail is being viewed by futuristic insect creatures, who use the same words she used at the start of the story: “To think that primitive creatures like this, teeming millions of them, were once masters of the earth!”
Here we have very similar comeuppances, where the tables get turned on insect collectors. It was possibly the same writer and definitely the same artist. “The Purple Emperor” was discussed in Misty Short Stories II, so discussion will focus on “Perfect Specimen”.
Gail is not cruel like Betty – after all, what she collects is already dead. And she admires the things that were preserved, while Betty is just a cold fish and has a streak of the animal torturer too. But Gail is just as obsessive as Betty in getting what she wants and is not showing any common sense in doing so. For example, she disregards safety in climbing across the glacier, which is why she fell down the crevasse. And did she really steal that fossil from the museum or did she dream it? Either way she doesn’t seem to have any conscience, so maybe this is why she is in for a bit of comeuppance.
In most cases, the Misty short stories used creepy crawlies for comeuppances, though the victims had varying degrees of deserving the fate. In rarer cases, such as “Red Knee – White Terror!”, the creepy crawlies were used for straight out horror, and played on the terror or simply the “yecch!” factor the creepy crawly is regarded with.