Misty Short Stories XI: Slavery

In this instalment of Misty short stories, we look at how she used the concept of slavery. As will be seen below, Misty commented most frequently on the institutionalised slavery of the ancient world. Perhaps it was related to her story on Greek slavery, “A Leap Through Time”, which also brought up a more repugnant aspect of slavery in the ancient world: human sacrifice.

An Eye for An Eye…

Misty: #65

Artist: Jorge Badia Romero

Reprint: Best of Misty #7

In ancient Rome, Livia is a spoiled, cruel rich girl. She has grown extremely bored with Rome, so to relieve her boredom she has two African leopards brutally torn from their mother and brought to Rome for her amusement. They are subjected to cruel methods to break them, but get secret help from Livia’s slave, Esther. Livia has one leopard killed for skin, and the other leopard attacks her when she flaunts it in front of him. Her revenge is to take the leopard to her uncle in Africa to be killed in a gruesome spectacle. However, her ship is intercepted and captured by Arab pirates because of the leopard’s telltale growling. The Arabs reward the leopard by returning it to the wild in Africa. Livia is sold into slavery. She always seems to hear that leopard roaring triumphantly at her, which suggests she never saw Rome or freedom again. Back in Rome, Esther’s own freedom is coming.

Thoughts

Livia is a grim reminder that in earlier centuries, cruelty to animals (and slaves) was all too common and could be extremely bloodthirsty. Animal rights and abolition of slavery are comparatively recent phenomena, and not all parts of the world have adopted them. Livia herself sums up the dark side of ancient Rome: opulent, indulgent, arrogant, decadent, cruel, greedy, selfish, and abusive to slaves and animals alike. Esther is the kindly contrast that provides hope that not all people were that bad in ancient times.

The title itself sums up how the comeuppance will go: what Livia does to the victim(s) in this story will ultimately be done to her. For this reason, two sets of panels have been provided to illustrate the “before” and “after”.

The comeuppance is unusual in not using supernatural forces, which is Misty’s usual pattern. Instead, Livia is brought down by a combination of circumstances and the consequences of her wanton behaviour. There is a hint of spookiness with Livia always having the leopard roaring in her head once she becomes a slave, but this could be psychological.

When the Rain Falls…

Misty: #24

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Reprint: Misty annual 1985

In ancient Rome, Marcus and Amanda are separated when they are sold to different owners in the slave market. They both begin to hear a voice calling their names, and the voice reunites them. Convinced the voice is a call to freedom, they follow it, and notice heavy storm clouds gathering. They meet lions, but the lions do not harm them; the lions also hear the voice and run away towards it. Marcus and Amanda follow the lions and come to Noah’s Ark and sanctuary as the Flood begins.

Thoughts

Even though these two slaves are not as badly treated as some we’ve seen in Misty, the story is really effective in illustrating the horror of slavery by showing the actual process of selling slaves at the market. Unlike the other slave stories discussed here, the story focuses more on how the slaves escape than comeuppance for the slavers. Presumably the Flood is the comeuppance.

Spitting Image

Misty: #79

Artist: Jorge Badia Romero

Princess Rebecca is so vain she keeps only the plainest of servants around so she will look even more beautiful. She gets jealous when one servant, Sarah, starts growing more beautiful. (It’s not clear if Sarah is a slave, but we will say she is.) Sarah says the change in her appearance seemed to start after an artist painted her looking that way. Rebecca orders the same artist be brought to her (in chains) so as to paint her portrait too, and wants it unrivalled for beauty. She is furious when he portrays her as hideous and ugly. He replies he only painted what he saw. She throws him into the dungeon and orders him to be tortured. After days of this, Sarah rescues him and they escape together. The artist explains it is the soul of the person he paints, not the face, and he painted that hideous portrait of Rebecca because that was what he saw in her. When he depicts inner beauty in the sitter, the sitter will start to resemble it in real life. This was the case with Sarah. But as Rebecca finds out, when the artist depicts the inner ugliness he sees in the sitter, the sitter will soon resemble that too.

Thoughts

The old adage “beauty is only skin deep” strikes again, but it’s totally lost on Rebecca. The poor artist cannot help himself in painting Rebecca as he truly sees her, even though it will get him into serious trouble. Even though Rebecca will get her comeuppance once the power of the portrait takes effect, the artist will still be made to suffer for it. He needs to escape for this to be a totally happy ending, and gets it in the form of Sarah. This not only needs to be a comeuppance story but an escape story as well.

Garden of Evil

Misty: #53

Artist: Jordi Franch

Reprint: redrawn in Misty annual 1981 as “The Evil Garden”. New artist was Jose Canovas.

In a medieval fairytale setting, Tansy Fuller, a herbalist, is kidnapped and enslaved by the evil Lady Ruella to work in her secret garden. The garden is filled with nothing but poisonous plants. Hearing rumours that those who cross Ruella don’t live long, Tansy soon guesses the purpose of the garden. She secretly plants a white rose, a symbol of goodness and purity in the garden, in defiance of Ruella. Ruella gets jealous when Lord John Piers falls in love with her younger, kind sister Grizelda, and plots to kill her with one of her poison garden concoctions, which she tests on Tansy. It proves sublethal, but Tansy is in no state to warn Grizelda. Then Ruella sees the white rose and attempts to pull it out. It pricks her, and she falls mysteriously ill and dies. Tansy believes the purity of the rose acted like poison to her “black blood”. Grizelda takes over the castle, marries the lord, and Tansy becomes her lady in waiting. The poisonous plants in the garden are replaced with wholesome ones, with the white rose taking pride of place.

Thoughts

Here we have an example of personalised slavery rather than the institutional one, and Ruella could get away with it with impunity because of her rank. When we see its purpose – commit murders – we definitely want it brought down. Kidnapping a girl for slavery is bad enough but forcing her to be complicit in murder is too much. We don’t want the evil Ruella marrying that lord either. It’s worrying, because Ruella is the elder daughter and therefore the first in line to marry under the customs of the period. But we can pity any husband who marries that black widow. It’s ten to one she will murder him with her poisons at some point.

Ruella’s comeuppance is one of the more puzzling in Misty because it is not clear what killed Ruella after she got the rose thorn. We are not so inclined to believe that its purity reacted with her “black blood” to lethal effect. One explanation is some sort of bacterial infection entered her bloodstream after she got pricked. In fact, there have been real life cases where people died of infections after being pricked by rose thorns (check out Google). In any case there can be little doubt that planting the white rose was not only the instrument in bringing down Ruella but in Tansy getting her revenge and ultimate triumph over her as well.

Closing Thoughts

In her short stories, Misty used the slave theme as a comeuppance on slavers, slave owners, and commenting on the evils of slavery in general. For this reason she tended to draw on slavery in historical periods, particularly in the ancient world. There were no stories using the black slavery of the 17th, 18thand 19thcenturies, but some might have appeared if Misty had lasted longer. “When the Rain Falls…” is unusual for putting the emphasis on escape rather than comeuppance.

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