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Lona the Wonder Girl

  • Lona the Wonder Girl–  Bunty: #926 (11 October 1975) – #951 (03 April 1976)
  • Reprinted as Wonder Girl – Lucky Charm: #18 (1982)
  • Artist: Robert MacGillivray

Plot

Lona Neal was abandoned as a baby and adopted by a group of scientists. They think she will be perfect test subject as even as a baby her endurance and intelligence is evident. The scientists keep her secluded and raise her to be the perfect human specimen.  There experiments can be harsh, such as when she can draw with her right hand, they make a pen that won’t work unless she uses her left hand and when she cries that she is hungry, they don’t respond in order for her  her to learn independence by finding her own food from the fruit trees outside. Only one of the scientist, Dr Hilda, appears to see her more than an experiment, praising her and showing concern at some of the harsher lessons. When Lona’s guardians feel they have taught her all they can, they send her off to an exclusive boarding school to see how she does in the outside world and prove their experiment a success.

Charlton College is a competitive school for the best and brightest. While Lona is smart in many ways, her guardians did not teach her about people and ways of the world.  Therefore the other girls actually think she’s a bit thick, strange and often interpret her special abilities wrongly. Like when she takes part in a swimming competition, she decides to swim under water as it is the clearer path. But the games mistress jumps in to rescue her,  as she thinks Lona must be drowning because no-one could hold their breath that long and the girls all think she lied about being able to swim. Another teacher also thinks she must have cheat on test, because she couldn’t finish it so quickly. The girls in her class wonder how she doesn’t understand slang like “bighead” and “to stick up for yourself”. When Lona gets in bully Mildred’s bad books, the girls are irked that Lona lets Mildred push her around. When things go wrong Lona remembers the lessons her guardians taught her.She always prefers to try peaceful method and thinks if confrontation is needed it should be done privately.

Lona would like a chance to play on the tennis team for an upcoming tournament but is denied because again she is not understood when she says she’s never played against a human (as she had learned to play against a robot, Bertie). She does get her chance though when several of the players come down with the flu. At first she finds people can be harder to play against than a robot, as they are more “deceptive”. When she learns her opponents moves she does end up winning. Finally her classmates are impressed and want her to accept the challenge of bighead school champion Celia. Lona does eventually accept, but thinks when Celia sets time for a match she means 12 midnight rather than 12 noon. She thinks it is not right to brag and therefore midnight is good time as they will be able to play in private. She goes to wake Celia up as she thinks she has forgotten. Celia wakes everyone else up, not interested in a private match. But then Celia gets nervous and doesn’t want to take the chance of losing, so she asks friends to distract Lona. Tricks like shining light in her eyes, don’t work and its clear that Lona will win, until the principal interrupts. While the whole school were behind Lona to win, seeing her not stand up for herself against Celia and call her out on the tricks she pulled, makes them exasperated with Lona again.

Lona has heightened hearing, so when the girls say things about her, they don’t realise she will be hurt by the comments. Feeling very dejected, Lona decides to runaway back home, but is surprised her guardians have abandoned the house. Deciding there are some things she must solve alone, like her guardians taught her, she goes back to the school. Tired from all her walking, she actually sleeps in and is grumpy in the morning. The girls think maybe she is normal after all, but she quickly reverts to her old ways. Mildred is still especially annoyed with Lona, even after she saves the class from lightning. Mildred does notice Lona is desperate for a friend and uses this to play tricks on her, making her do a ton of prep. Lona does start making progress with making friends, firstly a girl with allergies, Fiona, takes Lona’s advise about getting rid of chemicals. This turns out to be a good thing, because it turns out she was having a bad reaction to a nasal spray. She also makes friends with Mary, who encourages her to have more fun. Even the teachers are coming around and she gets a place on the gymnastics team.

Mildred isn’t happy that she is made reserve on the gymnastics team, but also doesn’t take well to Lona offering her place. Mary says Lona needs to be more human and stop always trying to be perfect; she should tell a lie, have fun!Lona begins to doubt herself and her guardians and loses some of her poise She tries to loosen up going to concert with Mary, and it seems Mary was right as more girls are being friendlier to her now. But because of Lona’s heightened senses, the noise and smoke is too much and she runs off. Mildred notices and makes a note of this weakness. She use this to her advantage at the gymnastics display, getting her father to blow smoke at Lona. Lona is also disconcerted as she thinks one of the professors is there but she is mistaken and the the loudspeaker announcing her makes her sensitive. All these things cause Lona to lose her concentration and fall. Then her coach tells her to push everything from her mind, she relies on her lessons and she makes a great recovery.

During the break between events, Mary invites Lona out with her family, Lona is upset when Mary asks her to share the secret of her strength as she thinks now Mary only wants her friendship because of that. Before the next event some girls mock her preparation and again Lona loses her concentration. She has to take some time to dismiss her emotions to recover. Mildred is mad and jealous because despite her mistakes, Lona gets a loud applause.  Her jealously goes so far that she pushes a flower pot on Lona. Lona refuses doctor but soon finds her vision blurring. Still she manages the next event through feel only. The selectors for the British team in the audience are impressed with her talent and recovery, so put her on short list. Mildred is disappointment though her father reassures her she’s the greatest to him. Hearing this Lona feels lonely wishing she had parents that cared for her. Then she spots Dr Hilda but she runs away before Lona gets a chance to talk to her. Mary is blunt, telling her that her guardians have caused nothing but heartache. Marys family propose adopting her, but Lona’s head injury acts up and she is diagnosed with a concussion. At this stage she is tired of being strong and is getting more ill, only the arrival of Dr Hilda encourages her to fight again. Dr Hilda says the other scientists blame her for the failure of the experiment as she was too sentimental with Lona. Lona is determined to prove them wrong, and now with renewed strength, begins to excel at everything, including becoming a swimming and gymnastic champion. While playing violin solo at parents day, Lona is delighted her guardians have come. Her guardians are to take her home but no more experiments, she can come back to the school as a normal girl.

Thoughts

With the Wonder Woman film release, I thought it would be good to look at a British Wonder Girl. [Note: There have been several Wonder Girls in  of the American DC comics the first appearance of the DC Wonder Girl was actually the adventures of a teenage Wonder Woman, another writer thought Wonder Girl was separate person and added her onto the Teen Titans team, so she had to have a new backstory developed, that Wonder Girl became Donna Troy]. I assume DCT  were able to get away with stories called Wonder Girl (and Supergirl) because the characters themselves were different from their American namesakes. Lona does show some similarities to Wonder Woman (film version), she has compassion, wanting to make peace, and shows some naivety of outside world, they are even both unfamiliar with ice cream! But she has more in common with another British Wonder Girl Jay Smith from Mandy. Both Lona and Jay are raised by scientists to be a peak of their abilities. They have heightened senses, endurance, excel at sports and academia. Jay has a good relationship with her guardian Harriet Dene and is happy to put her abilities to the test against others. Though her abilities set her apart she doesn’t feel lonely. Lona on the other hand longs for friendship and though she should be top of everything, her actions are often misinterpreted.

Throughout the story there are flashbacks, which show how she interacted with her guardians, lessons she learned and they also show, even when younger, she was in search for friendship and connections. Dr Hilda is certainly shown to be the most emotionally attached of the guardians, Lona as a younger child even asks her to pretend to be her mummy. Lona is a very sympathetic character, you can certainly see her loneliness (well demonstrated by the expressive art of Robert MacGillivray) and also the conflict of trying to do her best all the time like her guardians taught her. The problem with this, is it isolates her from the other students, they don’t understand her strange ways. The scientists don’t put much stock in teaching Lona social skills or humour, this ends up being her downfall. While they think emotions make her soft and she won’t be able to excel, it is not possible for Lona to completely push aside her emotions and this is her downfall. When finally she knows that Dr Hilda cares, that is what pushes her to do her best, proving the other scientists wrong.

The ending seemed a bit quick, the scientists decide no more experiments as Lona has proven successful across the board, but we never see any reactions from them. Some plot points seem to be dropped too, like Mary’s want to find out the “secret” to Lona’s strength, while Lona suspects her friendship isn’t so genuine, next Mary’s parents are offering to adopt her! These plots are never developed. Also Fiona is never mentioned again, possibly she was still in hospital? As I only have the Lucky Charm version, it is possible that there have been parts edited out of the original which may have developed these plots more. A more satisfying supporting character is Mildred, we see her annoyance then jealousy of Lona build up to the point where she causes injury to Lona. While she never apologizes,  she does look guilty after injuring Lona. While she may want Lona’s skill, she doesn’t appreciate she has something Lona longs for – a loving parent.  The ending is satisfying with Lona now happy, she has a caring family that are proud of her and she has the chance to return to school as a normal girl with friends.

Lady Sarah’s Secret

    • Lady Sarah’s Secret – Emma:  #61 (21 April 1979) – #69 (16 June 1979)
    • Reprinted – Judy: #1500 (8 October 1988) – #1508 (10 December 1988)
    • Reprinted (as Judy classic) – M&J: #308 (4th May 1997) – #315 (May 24 1997) [last issue has 2 installments]
    • Artist: Hugo D’Adderio

Plot

In 1840, Lady Sarah Cragston is out riding when she nearly runs down a girl. She is surprised to find out the girl has runaway from the local orphanage which her father is governor of. Sarah doesn’t listen to the girl’s claims of mistreatment, believing her to be an ungrateful wretch and takes her back to the orphanage. She does however become suspicious when the Bonneys that run the place, are keen to get rid of her. She insists on looking around and is appalled by the conditions. Later she tries to tell her father about what she saw and at first she thinks he shares her outrage but he is only upset that she went to orphanage and forbids her from going there again. Later while talking to a maid, Sarah learns that the orphanage used to be a mansion called Fell Grange, until the daughter of the house, Elizabeth Sturgesse, was tragically killed while out riding. There is a legend that Elizabeth’s spirit appeared  to help those in need  and she became known as “The Dark Lady of Haunted Hill”. Lady Sarah decides it is time for the Dark Lady to reappear and  finds old riding gear and dark wig to become the part.

Lady Sarah’s first act is to free the runaway she met earlier, who had since been beaten and locked in the cellar. She first runs into the Bonneys, Mr Bonney is terrified of the ghost but Mrs bonny shows less fear and has to be dragged inside by her husband. The girl, Ellen Rumble, is very grateful and even more so when Sarah arranges it so she can hire her as personal servant.  Ellen makes a good ally as she can tell Sarah about the inner workings of the orphanage. She helps Sarah when she does some investigative work to see where Mrs bonny gets the food for the orphanage, she obviously buys the good stuff for herself and the orphans get the cheap, poor quality stuff. Sarah buys supplies for the orphans and sets out a feast for them. Then in the guise of the Dark Lady, she warns the Bonneys to start feeding them properly.

At this point Mrs Bonney’s original confidence of ghosts not being able to harm them, seems to be waning. The Bonneys even foolishly put bars on the cellar door to keep the ghost off. Of course while that would be no use against a ghost, it does pose a problem for Sarah, as she now needs to find another way to access the orphanage. Ellen does know of one  successful runaway who said she had aunt in Crampton. Sarah manages to track her down and find out about a secret passage. Then using a potion that was given to her father by a sea captain, she is able to temporarily paralyze the Bonneys in order to stop them abusing cripples. These things further convince the Bonneys that she is a supernatural being with powers.

Next Sarah finds out that the money her father provides for a doctor, actually goes to a charlatan doctor who gives the sick children coloured water, so him and the Bonneys make a tidy profit by not giving proper medicine. Sarah and Ellen go searching for a legitimate doctor to treat a very sick girl. They find a doctor name Sturgesse and this seems like a good omen so Sarah hires him. The Bonneys are surprised by Dr. Sturgesse’s visit and by his name. Adding to their stress further is when asked who sent him, the doctor points to Sarah who is watching close by dressed as the Dark Lady.

When a letter arrives from the Bonneys to her father, saying the price of coal has increased, Sarah is suspicious of a scam. She is proved right when visiting the orphanage she hears the Bonneys plan to forge bills. While returning home, her father sees her near the orphanage and is very angry, he doesn’t want her anywhere near the orphans in case she catches something. While she says she will stay away, that night she is back again as the Dark Lady to see if she can find out what the Bonneys are doing with the money they keep. She finds Mr Bonny hosting a card game and she takes a risk haunting them. While she does startle the men, one of them knocks over a lamp and starts a fire. While they are putting out the fire, Sarah escapes, but one on of the men, Harry, hears her coughing and therefore believes there is no ghost. Harry visits Lord Cragston the next day to talk about the occurrences at the orphanage. Sarah whose throat is still irritated by the smoke can’t stop herself coughing, which leads Harry to accuse her of being the ghost. Lord Cragston doesn’t believe such things and kicks him out but he is concerned by Sarah’s coughing and sends her to an aunt to recover. This is a further worry for Sarah as this will mean the Bonneys will not believe in the ghost now, but Ellen keeps up the legend as she sneaks out and plays the Dark Lady in her stead.

While out riding Sarah sees the parish clerk beating on a young girl while bringing her to orphanage, that night worried about this outspoken new girl Sarah sneaks into the orphanage to check on her, but Ellen has a sense of foreboding. That night the Bonneys have visitors who are concerned about the “hauntings” – the parish clerk and Mr Calver, the justice of peace. Ellen goes to warn Sarah about the arrivals, but the secret panel to the passage closes and they are forced to hide. While they do manage to slip out, Sarah accidentally leaves a riding glove behind. The Justice of Peace sees the girls riding off in the distance, he suspects there is no ghost and wants to investigate the orphanage further. Meanwhile Mr Bonney has found the riding glove and also now knows there is no ghost and that it is Lady Sarah that has been behind everything. He goes to Lord Cragston with this news, who is troubled by this, but still doesn’t believe Sarah that anything wrong with the Bonneys. He is forced to listen with the sudden arrival of Mr Calver with Mr Holmes, a government inspector of children’s work conditions. They want Sarah to testify against the Bonneys. At the inquiry Ellen also testifies but the other orphans are too scared to. One exception is Crissy, the outspoken girl, who shows the beatings on her back. Lord Cragston, apologizes for being unaware of what Bonneys were doing and promises to get suitable replacements. A few weeks later with the kindly Jacksons in charge, Sarah can put away her Dark Lady costume.

Thoughts

When we first meet Lady Sarah she is not too concerned for the orphans, going so far as to bring back the runaway to orphanage by tying a rope around her waist and calling her an “ungrateful little wretch”. It is likely that this initial attitude is influenced by her father.  He doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of the orphans seeing them as brats, of little use and potentially infectious rather than what they actually are – children. We are not told how Sarah’s mother died but it may be a factor in Lord Cragston’s fear for his daughter’s safety and that she may catch some illness from being near the orphans. He doesn’t seem to be intentionally cruel, as he does believe the orphans are being provided for and that the “good” Bonneys are training the brats to be useful to society. But his claims of ignorance of the Bonneys wrong doings, isn’t good enough when his own daughter has told him of their cruelty and he doesn’t bother to investigate further.

Like I said Sarah seems to have a similar attitude to her father, until she sees the actual living conditions of the orphans and is horrified. It is fitting then, that the first person she helps is that same runaway she brought back. In quite a contrast to their first meeting, after her rescue of Ellen, Sarah attends to her injuries, no longer feeling above those poorer than her. In return for this kindness Ellen becomes a loyal companion to Sarah. In other stories such as “The Seeker” or “The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie”, the protagonists pretend to be mean spirited in real life to keep their secret, so it makes a difference here that Sarah speaks up for the orphans even when she’s not in costume and also that she has an ally to confide in.

Using the legend of the ghost, is also an interesting angle. Through her father’s local history books, Sarah learns about deeds that  the “Dark Lady” supposedly did, which she uses to help her own cause. It would seems most people are familiar with the legend, but whether those events were real, exaggerated or perhaps someone playing at the ghost, like Sarah did, we never know for sure. It could be interesting if different people use the guise of the Dark Lady whenever she is needed. While many people fear her, Mrs Bonney initially shows her toughness, not fearing the ghost, it certainly seems to be her that’s in charge, as Mr Bonney fears his wife’s wrath as well as the ghost.

The art is gorgeous and very detailed, I particularly like the details in the clothes. Also the use of the shadows and perspective when Sarah is doing her haunting, makes her a very intimidating presence. While a lot of the panels are standard size, when given more room with wider panel D’Adderio takes advantage doing some lovely work as demonstrated in the opening panel.  It is another strong story from the short lived Emma comic and with the classic artwork and captivating story, it’s no surprise that this was reprinted in Judy and as a Judy classic in M&J.

Rosetta and the House of Fear

  • Rosetta and the House of Fear – Mandy: #358 (24 November 1973) – #362 (22 December 1973)
  • Artist: Guy Peeters

Plot

Fourteen year old Rosetta was brought up by gypsies and had found work as a maid at the big house, owned by invalid, Mrs Trevelyan. The house was known as ‘The Towers’ and Rosetta felt drawn to it, but also cautious as she also sensed a mystery surrounding the house and it’s occupants. Joe and Emily Briggs and their daughter Molly, were the only other staff that Mrs Trevelyan had and Rosetta suspected they were trying to swindle the woman after hearing them arguing about money.

Rosetta finding a dress laid out for her tries it on, but is distressed when Mrs Trevelyan is taken ill after seeing her in the dress that had belonged to her dead daughter. When she wants to go apologise to her, Mrs Briggs forbids her. Later when she goes to try and talk to her anyway, she sees Emily Briggs coming out of Mrs Trevelyan’s room and locking the door, she assumes this to keep her out. She wonders what she can do about this, as who would believe the word of a gipsy girl. She decides to go to nursery to think, but then wonders how she knew the room was nursery, and inside the nursery more strange occurrences as she seems to know what a doll is named too.

When Rosetta sees Mrs Briggs, slipping something into Mrs Trevelyan’s food, she decides to slip out and ask her gipsy friends for help. She is too late though as the gipsy camp has moved on and Joe Briggs catches her and brings her back to ‘The Towers’. Despite the Briggs keeping a closer eye on Rosetta, she does manage to switch out the sleeping powder that the Briggs are giving Mrs Trevelyan, with a harmless powder. More luck for Rosetta as she meets Mr Price who is buying old paintings from the house. He tells her how the house used to be a happy place but then Miss Selina, her husband and daughter drowned in an accident. The Briggs came to work for the family soon after, but Mr Trevelyan didn’t like them and then he met with a tragic accident too, killed while riding. After hearing this Rosetta wonders are the Briggs capable of murder and if the only thing stopping them killing Mrs Trevelyan too was in case the house was sold by whoever inherited it.

No longer being drugged Mrs Trevelyan is up and about and Joe Briggs is quick to steer  her away from Rosetta. Later Mrs Trevelyan collapses again and Rosetta finds a syringe nearby. The next day, Rosetta is waiting for the injection to wear off so she can talk with Mrs Trevelyan. Molly is hanging around mocking Rosetta’s gipsy heritage, she mentions that she could be a lady if her family could solve a riddle –  “I lie beneath the sun, yet am always in darkness. Time passes over me, yet I never grow old. Where am I?” Rosetta has heard that riddle before and spends the day pondering it. Still her priority is to talk with Mrs Trevelyan so when she sees an opportunity she goes for it, only to be caught by Joe Briggs and thrown in the cellar. In the celler she finds a chest with album in it. She is drawn to a photo of Selina and her family, feeling like she knows them…

The Briggs don’t keep her locked up in the cellar, they plan to work her hard with no food and lock her in her room at night. Rosetta thinks the only way to escape is to solve the riddle. Looking out of her window at night she figures out that the riddle refers to the sundial. She manages to slip away and finds a hidden compartment in the sundial containing Mrs Trevelyan’s will. Unfortunately this was all part of the Briggs plan, to get her to find the will, so they can change it and now having done what they needed from her they plan to get rid of her for good! Luckily her gipsy family arrives in time to stop them. Magda also shows her the pinafore they found her in which has the Trevelyan family symbol on it. Rosetta is Mrs Trevelyan’s granddaughter and now that the Briggs have been exposed, she and her grandmother can start making ‘The Towers’ a happy place to live again.

Thoughts

Here we have some common story elements; scheming characters trying to get inheritance and a girl finding out she is a long lost relative (such as in ‘The Secret of Hardwick Hall’). Considering the potential for playing with and expanding on these elements, the story seems  unusually short at only 5 episodes. For the most part this does help keep the pace quick and still covers all that we need to know. It’s quickly established that the Briggs are shady characters, and becomes apparent that they are keeping Mrs Trevelyan in a state of illness. Meanwhile Rosetta finding she somehow knows things about the house, coupled with the story of the family drowning, it is obvious that she will turn out to be the grandchild. There is a nice touch with the Briggs needing Rosetta to figure out the riddle (although it doesn’t seem they were aware of her connection to the house). It shows their cunning by getting Molly to mention the riddle, then watching Rosetta to see where she goes.

So while the story keeps things interesting and fast moving, the last episode could have been expanded on more, especially as Rosetta escapes the Briggs through a deus ex machina! The gipsies show up to help, not because Rosetta got message to them or some other set up, just Magda’s crystal ball suddenly telling them they needed to return. Then she explains about finding Rosetta half drowned as a child. We don’t get to see Rosetta react to this news or even the reunion with her grandmother as the last 2 panels just cut to a few days later with Rosetta and Mrs Trevelyan waving the gipsies off. While Rosetta showed concern for the old lady throughout the story, because the Briggs tried to keep them apart, we never see a relationship build between them. The ending could have taken the time to establish the connection and end on a more emotional note.

 

The Double Life of Dana / The Secret Life of Dana

  • The Double Life of Dana– Mandy: #306 (25 Nov. 1972) – #317 (10 Feb. 1972)
  • Reprinted as The Secret Life of Dana – Emma: #49 (27 Jan. 1979) – #60 (14 Apr. 1979)
  • Artist: Claude Berridge

Plot

Dana Fenton, an orphan, has always dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Even now that she has left the orphanage she grew up in and has gotten a decent job and comfortable lodgings, it is not enough to satisfy her. So when she sees that there are auditions for a scholarship with a Ballet Company and a maid’s job in a prestigious ballet school, she takes the leap to follow her dream. She quits her job and applies for the in-house maid job, in the hopes that while she could never afford to go to school there, she may be able to learn by watching. Madame Rochelle proves to be a tough employer, meaning Dana will certainly be working hard to earn her place. At the same time she has to try and find time to go to Belmont Company audition. She arrives at the audition, but seeing Madame there with two pupils, she is afraid she will lose her job, so she dons a wig and makeup and gives the fake name ‘Ann Smith’ in order to keep her secret. The judges see potential in her and she gets in to the next round along with the two pupils from the ballet school, Janice and Ella.

secret life dana1Dana’s double life makes things difficult at time, such as Madame telling Dana to wait by the phone so she can tell everyone the results of the next audition. Of course as Dana is also meant to attend the audition she has to figure out how to do both things! She manages to attend the audition then rushes to pay phone outside and calls Madam pretending to have misunderstood the instructions. She then has to rush back to the school, and actually lets air out of Madame’s tyres so she will beat them back.

Also making life difficult for Dana, are her two rivals, Janice and Ella, who are snobbish and like to make more work for Dana. When Madame entrusts Dana to take the girls to next audition (which is a stroke of luck for Dana as she wondered how she was going to get to someplace so far away), the girls don’t listen to Dana and call her skivvy expecting her to be their personal maid. Luckily Miss Norris and old friend of Madame’s has also been sent to check on the girls and she helps Dana keep them in line. They still continue to cause more trouble,  back at the school making muddy prints over the floor Dana just cleans, they turn even more against Dana when Madame sticks up for her and make them re-clean the floor! Then later at an audition, they leave room a mess and carelessly leave clothes near an electric fire. Dana  in her ‘Ann Smith’ disguise finds the dressing room on fire and helps put it out, before having to run off before her identity is discovered. Janice and Ella blame Dana for the fire and their clothes getting destroyed. They decide to return the favour by destroying her clothes. So her ballet costume isn’t discovered, she has to chase them out of her room, which causes more trouble with Madame. While Madame doesn’t blame her for fire, she does think she should have been attending her duties more carefully, she also is suspicious of the girls being in Dana’s room but does tell Dana any more trouble and she’ll be dismissed.

secret life dana2

Due to the fire, the audition has been rescheduled and Madame offers the school as a new venue. Dana has to be extra careful not to be discovered and uses a traditional mask to hide her face completely. More questions are being asked about, who this mysterious Ann Smith is! While Madame doesn’t suspect Dana, Janice and Ella are beginning to wonder if she and Ann are the same person. Ella even opens a trapdoor at an audition in the hopes of not letting Ann slip away, she doesn’t seem concerned that she could have caused her some serious injury, if not for Dana/Ann’s quick reflexes allowing her to leap out of the way in time. Her secret is discovered by an unlikely person Myra Dean, a famous dancer, who is now blind. When she visits the school, Dana helps her twice, one time as ‘Ann’ and Miss Dean recognises her work-rough hands. Although she hints to Madame, that Ann and Dana maybe the same person, Madame dismisses the thought and Myra doesn’t try to persuade her, instead she becomes Dana’s ally.

secret life dana3

A  mistake signing a girl’s autograph book, leads Janice and Ella to also discover Dana’s secret.  At the last audition, using Dana’s friendship with Miss Dean against her, the girls send Dana to the wrong place. She only just makes it to the right place at the end, with no chance to change into Ann Smith. Myra Dean confirms her identity and Dana is allowed to dance, even though she doesn’t have time to even change into ballet clothes. Dana wins the scholarship and Madame Rochelle is shocked to find her own maid is Ann Smith. Seeing her dance she knows Dana deserves to win and she will also being having words with Janice and Ella about their involvement in the audition mix-up. Dana is delighted she can now pursue her dream and no longer lead a double life.

Thoughts

Dana while she certainly hasn’t the easiest time, it’s not as hard as other characters in similar positions, leading double life (such as “Ballerina on a String”). She is actually a very upbeat person and she is in charge of her own choices, as she is not forced to do the things she does. She left comfortable lodgings and a shop job, to work at the school, because she wants to follow her dream.

Madame Rochelle has a reputation as a slave-driver and none of  her other maids stayed very long. She certainly works Dana hard but she is not cruel and does treat her fairly. She even puts her trust in Dana to chaperone the other girls. When she knows of the tricks the girls play, she assesses situation and doesn’t automatically favour her students over her employee, as seen when she makes Janice and Ella clean the muddy prints and not taking their side when she finds Dana yelling at them as they were in Dana’s room.

secret life dana4

While she does treat her with some respect, at the same time she does not see Dana’s potential, viewing her only as maid. This bias blinds her to the clues in front of her, such as finding Ann Smith looks familiar, nearly catching a girl practicing late at night to audition music (and it not being Janice or Ella), she doesn’t even question that the mysterious Ann Smith gets a letter to the school and ignores the hint her old friend Myra Dean gives.

secret life of dana

So while the work is hard the main difficulties Dana has, is keeping her identity hidden while getting to auditions and the bigger problem of the spiteful girls. Of the two girls, Ella is more dangerous than Janice, she is the leader of the two and the most suspicious. She also opens the trapdoor on Dana and while she passes it off as an accident, she should really have more repercussions. She is not happy to be shown up by Ann Smith, and even less happy when she finds out that Ann is actually the ‘skivvy’ Dana. Even without Dana in the competition, Ella’s thoughts are shown to be quite big-headed, she expects to win over her supposed friend Janice too.

While Dana has joined the school to learn of ballet, we don’t really see much time focused on seeing how she benefits from this and how she improves. Instead most episodes are dedicated to her trying to attend an audition and keep her secret. Although as she keeps getting through to the next stage her “unpolished potential” must be getting better. The competition for the scholarship isn’t very clear, there’s seems to be a lot of auditions happening but it’s not clear how many stages there are and how many people auditioning. In the first stage the 3 girls get through, but as we never really get to see other competitors this leads to the impression that there are only three in the running all the time! In the last audition there appears to be five competing but again wonder how many auditioned initially in the first stage and how wide an area did the competitors come from? Still other than the questions of how the competition is ran, the story keeps a nice pace and the main characters are each distinctive both in personality and design. The art throughout is very nice and expressive. Berridge seems to be quite a varied artist, doing many different type of stories, I’m not aware of any other ballet story that he’s done, but he does a good job here.

secret life dana5

 

The Boy Next Door [1989]

  • The Boy Next Door –  Judy: #1528 (22 April 1989) – #1537 (24 June 1989)
  • Artist: John Armstrong

Plot

Charlene Hodge is thrilled when the boy she has a crush on,  Marcus Dolby, asks her out, but then he goes away to France on an exchange school visit, and Charlene is left waiting anxiously for his return. Meanwhile, Dave Webb, the class wimp,  moves into the house next door to Charlene. She isn’t too happy about this, but when she hears Dave’s older brother mocking him, she invites Dave to her party, in order to shut him up. Afterwards she worries what she will do if Dave actually shows up and how it will look to her friends. Luckily Dave doesn’t appear, as he knows she only invited him to make him look better in front of his brother. He also says he knows no girl would be interested in him, Charlene says he shouldn’t be so wet and actually try to ask a girl out. He invites her to go bird watching with him and after some hesitation Charlene agrees, figuring no one will see them that early in the morning. She is surprised to find she enjoys herself spending time with Dave. So she realises he is not so bad and she decides to try and find him a girlfriend.

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This doesn’t prove to be an easy task, especially as at first she still doesn’t want to appear too friendly with Dave in case she gets teased. Also she’s worried in case Marcus finds out and gets the wrong idea. After deciding to help Dave it seems she becomes more aware of how unfair people treat Dave. While it doesn’t seem like she was maliciously involved with teasing before hand, it didn’t seem to occur to her before how much Dave is bullied. Mr Dimchurch, one of the teachers is particularly harsh on him and certainly these days no teacher would get away with what he says and putting Dave down in front of the whole class. Charlene at first thinks if she can get Dimchurch to treat Dave with more respect, others will follow suit. Her efforts don’t go well as Dave’s clumsiness just make things worse. Hearing the rest of the class teasing him, Charlene thinks she is no better than the others, as even though she is not taking part in the teasing, she is ashamed to be seen with Dave. It is after this she becomes more active and open in her friendship with Dave

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Charlene talks to her friend, Jane,  about why no-one gives Dave a chance, saying it’s what’s inside that matters not appearances. Jane points out that Charlene wouldn’t have taken a second look at Marcus if he wasn’t so good looking, so Charlene tries to smarten Dave.  She encourages him to buy new clothes but then feels terrible when she finds out he sold his computer games cheaply in order to get a new shirt (that gets messed up when he trips while bird watching). Clearly Charlene’s opinion of him matters to Dave and he makes conscious effort to return her friendship. When some boys snatches Charlene’s postcard from Marcus, Dave actually steps in to try and get it back for her, while he doesn’t stand up for himself, he clearly likes Charlene, so he doesn’t want to see her bullied. This is an important step for him as it may lead him to talk up against his own bullies too.

All the while, Charlene is on the look out for a girlfriend for Dave, she thinks she finds a good match with Hayley who is also a bird lover, but again a boat ride ends in disaster. She also returns home and finds out Marcus rang, but her dad said she was out with the boy next door. She again worries what Marcus must think, but she decides that as long as Dave has a girlfriend by time Marcus is back, then Marcus will see there’s nothing to worry about. So her next plan to find Dave a girlfriend is to get Dave to join the choir, as there is a shortage. While Dave’s not a singer, he does have a talent for whistling, so she convinces Dimchurch to add in his whistling for a song. She also sees this as an opportunity to build bridges between him and his family. But on the night of the concert  it is another disaster – because of time restraints the song is cut and Dave trips getting off the stage.

Boy next door4Again after this incident, Charlene is the only one that cares about how Dave is afterwards. Later she enlists Dave’s help to rescue a girl’s pet bird and it appears she has finally found a potential girlfriend for him as the grateful girl likes him, but she hasn’t taken into consideration that Dave only fancies one girl now…

Dave then buys her tickets for open air concert she was interested in, even though it’s not really his scene. Before Charlene can answer  Marcus arrives, home earlier than expected. While Dave admits his feelings for her, he wants her to be happy and gives her and Marcus the tickets. At the concert Charlene tries to put Dave out of her mind and enjoy her time with Marcus. Then when he asks her to get her a burger, she returns to hear him saying how Dave was no competition and she is like all the other girls that will come running when he snaps his fingers. Charlene wonders what she saw in such a big head and let’s him know what she thinks of him by pushing his burger into his face. She then goes to apologise to Dave and see if he will give her a chance as she now knows who she would like to be her boyfriend.

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Thoughts

As a romance story this is well done as we see Charlene and Dave build up a friendship before they begin dating. What makes it more interesting is the theme of bullying throughout. While the story is told from Charlene’s point of view, it is interesting to see t Dave undergoes the trials that are usually reserved for the main protagonist. He deals with bullies and bully teachers, a lack of confidence and clumsiness. While Charlene gets a little teasing for hanging around with Dave and trying to help him – it is nowhere near the amount of bullying that Dave has to face daily. It’s no wonder he has little confidence, as not only do his peers tease him, his whole family are down on him too, until Charlene comes along there seems to be no one that believes in his potential. Charlene also realises while she isn’t active in the bullying, she also doesn’t do anything to help Dave. After this realisation, she makes a conscious effort to help him and openly be his friend and try to get others to respect him too. Having an ally also helps Dave try new things too and stand up to bullies (even if it’s on Charlene’s behalf rather than his own).

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It is easy to see why Dave falls for Charlene, as she is the only person that has tried to help him and is actually nice to him. He does seem to appreciate her for herself as well and while he has hopes that they might start dating,  he is smart enough to figure out she is trying to get him a different girlfriend.  As for Charlene early on she sees Dave’s  good qualities, when she actually spends time with him. While at first she is still nervous about being seen with him, around other people, she does become more active in helping him. While her plan is to get Dave a girlfriend, she does suspect that it is her she likes, but she figures he’ll forget about her once he has a new girlfriend. Although she does make an attempt to “improve” Dave getting him to buy better clothes, etc she doesn’t disparage his actual interests and does try to find him a girlfriend with similar interests. Equally Dave makes an effort with what he knows Charlene enjoys by buying her concert tickets when it’s not really his thing.

While Charlene is worried that Marcus will get the wrong idea about her and Dave, it doesn’t occur to her that he thinks so little of Dave, that he believes there’s no competition. This again shows Charlene’s good character and that she values Dave as a person. Although she initially was attracted to Marcus because of his looks, finding out what he is really like brings home the truth to  her that appearances don’t matter and also liking Dave as a person she also sees him as more attractive on the outside by the end.  John Armstrong does good job with the distinguished characters from Marcus’s smug looks and Dave’s clumsiness (without Dave becoming cartoonish). The story is well paced, both Charlene and Dave are likeable characters and it has some good lessons about bullying and perceived attractiveness.

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The Flight of the Bird Girl

Plot

In 1645, during the English Civil War, thirteen year old Beth Verney was separated from ‘her parents, Sir Francis and Lady Verney, during a Roundhead attack on their home. “Roundheads” was the nickname given to the followers of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the enemies of the King. Beth was befriended by old  Mother Shapton who possessed a strange power over birds, which she passed on to Beth before she was accidentally killed. Beth learned that her parents were at Skipton Castle, and with Sparky, Mother Shapton’s tame raven, she set out to find them.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Flight of the Bird Girl – Mandy: #361 (15 December 1973) – #370 (16 February 1974)

Sally’s Secret [1993]

  • Sally’s Secret –  M&J:  #112 (3 July 1993) – #119 (21 August 1993)
  • Artist: Bert Hill

Plot

Linda Brown’s family move to a new estate and she is happy when the family next door has a girl her age. Linda becomes quick friends with Sally Smart, but there is something mysterious about her new friend. Sally’s father is not around, but she says he will join them soon, and then they will be moving on, in the meantime she says they can be friends. Sally is very evasive of any questions about her father and other strange things like saying there’s no point in them installing a phone and that her dad won’t write or call.

When they go to see a film together, there is a scene where the father walks out on the family. Later Linda asks if that’s what happened with Sally’s family and she gets upset. She knows her parents still love each other and really want to be together, even if they cant do that right now.  The girls make up after their fight and Linda though still curious about what the mystery with Mr Smart is, she is a lot more cautious about asking questions.

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More strange things happen, such as Sally’s aunt comes to visit the house, but Sally avoids her and the aunt just lets herself into the house. Later they go back to the house and find, Sally’s aunt has cleared the food out and unplugged the fridge! When the girls start at school, Linda overhears Mrs Smart saying if Sally had played things her way she wouldn’t have to go to school. In art class the teacher has bunch of old newspapers from around the country, Sally is surprised to see something in a newspaper from her old home town. Linda hopes she can read the paper but Sally throws it into a fire, so she can only read part of the headline “Ex-Shaftsbury Man in..”. Again Linda wonders what Mr Smart is involved in. She thinks he may be criminal on the run after seeing news report, but then she sees photos of Mr Smart and he is not either of the men she saw on tv.

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There are other strange things about Sally, like when a teacher talks to Sally about future careers and later Sally says she won’t be working any job when she’s older. Linda wonders how that would be possible, as they don’t seem so rich that she could afford not to work. When they come across a trapped dog and go to rescue it, the dog keeps barking at Sally. At first she thinks it’s  odd as dogs usually like her, then she realises what the problem is but doesn’t elaborate on what that is to Linda.  Afterwards a local reporter wants to do an article about the rescue for the paper, but Sally says she’s too shy. Knowing how outgoing she is, Linda knows this is a lie, but the reporter takes a photo anyway (not very ethical of him!). Linda goes to persuade him not to run the article but it turns out something was wrong with the photo as Sally doesn’t show up in it.

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When the class go on a school trip, Sally notices people from her old school there, she asks Linda to cover for her and she sneaks away, so she won’t have to meet any of them. Later Linda goes to Sally’s house and overhears Mrs Smart telling Sally things are getting too complicated and they may have to go with out her father. Linda is sorry to lose her friend, but Sally is a lot happier when she hears their father will be able to join them after all. The next day Linda says her goodbyes, then a few days later, she sees the Smarts house up for sale. Linda gets talking to the estate agent, who tells her the sad story behind the house, a family just bought the house when the mother and daughter were killed in a car accident in Spain. The father was left in a coma but had recently died, so his sister was putting the house on the market. Linda is shocked it turns out Mr Smart wasn’t the strange one, it was Sally and Mrs Smart who were unusual, as they were ghosts!

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Thoughts

This is a nice little mystery story with solid art by Bert Hill as always. Actually M&J seemed to be quite fond of the mysterious new neigbours storylines (such as Strange Neighbours and Strangers). The ending was unexpected, although the hints were there throughout the story if you took notice, such as Sally saying she won’t have a job in the future and she won’t be able to stay in contact after they leave. Of course this is more obvious once you know the twist. Some of the phrasing also takes on new meaning when the ending is known such as “moving on”, which often is associated with death and grief. There are other times when Sally says things like “we all have sadness in our lives” which has a heavier meaning and makes the ending seem a bit tragic, as Sally is a likable character. Sally is a good friend to Linda, is shown to be generous and ironically for a ghost is full of life! She has a daredevil attitude, and encourages Linda to be more adventurous.

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It’s in the penultimate episode that the potential supernatural element was more apparent, when the dog didn’t like Sally and when she didn’t show up in photo. I like that Linda’s focus (and therefore also the readers) is that there something mysterious about the Mr Smart and how she keeps trying to think of reasons why he isn’t around and why he can’t contact them. I would have thought maybe prison or some witness protection thing first, as I was not thinking of more bizarre reasons.

It does raise some questions such as how were they able to eat and interact with things as ghosts, and how was Sally enrolled in the school, without them knowing about the accident. Also after the Smarts leave, there must have been some fallout, as Sally would disappear and surely others must find out about her, she interacted with so many people, how would they react on finding out ghosts exist, would the reporter do a story on it? Still other than  those questions, it is well paced and like I said the hints were there without being too obvious, so the twist doesn’t come out of no where, but is still effective.

Bunty 2001

bunty 2001The 2001 annual, would be the last Bunty book to come out when the weekly comic was still running.  The cover is nice in its simplicity (even though I do prefer the hand drawn covers more) and I like the coloured flowers that brightens up the background. Inside there is a nice variety of stories, features and it is all in colour. There are 12 picture stories  with regular characters, such as The Comp, The Four Marys and Girls Talking appearing.  There is also 2 text stories and 4 photo stories. Due to getting in contact with some creators through this site, I’m actually able to credit a lot of stories in this annual which is a very nice bonus.(For just a list of contents click here)

Picture Stories

The Comp   (Pages: 13-17 & 83-87 )

  • Artist: Peter Wilkes

Roz has a crush on a new sixth former, Greg, who is handsome and drives a flashy car. Amy’s not impressed with him though, he’s moved in near her and has a new girlfriend every week and drives recklessly. That doesn’t put Roz off though and she is happy to accept a date with him. She knows her father won’t approve so she gets her friends to cover for her. They agree at first but soon get annoyed at having to lie to the Cummings, especially when Roz hasn’t even warned them when she’s using them as cover. Roz finally wises up when Greg is speeding and won’t slow down. She demands to be let out of the car. Meanwhile a little bit away Claire is crossing the street and is knocked down by a familiar looking speeding car…

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This is where the story splits, to build up some suspense the next part is later in the book. Roz comes across Claire being taken away in the ambulance and Nikki explains what happen. Roz is upset as she suspects Greg may be responsible. She doesn’t want to tell anyone her suspicions in case she is wrong and everyone else assumes Roz was with Greg at the time, so it couldn’t be him. When Roz hears Greg’s car is in the garage for some repairs, she breaks down and tells Laura, Hayley and Becky about her suspicions. With their support, she goes to police station, but it turns out the hit and run driver has turned himself in and it’s not Greg! Although Roz feels a bit bad about jumping to conclusions, she doesn’t regret breaking up with him, he wasn’t nice and she thinks if he continues the way he does one day he will have an accident. It ends with the girls visiting Claire in hospital.

Lonely This Christmas (Pages: 21-25)

  • Writer: Maureen Hartley
  • Artist: Guy Peeters

Tessa Jones is feeling she will have a lonely holiday, as her family have just moved house. Then the old owners cat, Sheba, keeps showing up at the door. Although they return her, she comes back and then Tessa discovers she has had kittens. The families agree to keep Sheba until the kittens are big enough and  not only that Tessa will be allowed to keep two of the kittens. They advertise homes for the other kittens and she meets some girls who invite her to Youth Club party, so it turns out not to be such a lonely Christmas after all. It’s a nice, simple story with some good art.

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Girl Zone  – Bunty- a Girl Like You (Pages: 26-27 & 88-89)

  • Artist: Andy Tew

Strangely, this is just called Girl Zone but it is a Bunty strip, I don’t know if this is just an occurrence in this annual or is the strip had also been renamed in the weekly comics. It is the usual fun for a Bunty strip anyway,  in the first story it’s time for a new tree, Bunty convinces her mom to buy a real one, but then she can’t bear to see it cut down so they end up buying another artificial one instead.

In the second story Bunty decides to make her own crackers they are successful but she discovers they are not so fun when you know what all the gifts and jokes are!

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The Four Marys (Pages: 31-35)

  • Artist: Barrie Mitchell

No Bunty annual would be the same without at least one Four Marys story, in this book there are two stories. In this first story on their way to Elmbury, the four Marys see puppies for sale and they see a man refuse to sell a puppy to a woman who he doesn’t believe will look after it. The woman is not too happy and pays Mabel to buy it instead. Mabel hides the puppy in St Elmos and the Marys find out about it and who she intends to give it to. They raise money to pay Mabel off and give the puppy to deserving girl whose dog had died.

Penny’s Place (Pages: 37-43)

  • Artist: Guy Peeters

An old friend of Penny’s is staying with her during the holidays. Lucy soon starts causing problems with Penny’s other friends. Donna is a little put out by being ignored and this gets worse when her dog gets blamed for Lucys dog taking steak. Lucy continues to isolate friends by using Pete and trying to start a fight between Gemma and Sita. Penny begins to realise what a troublemaker she is. After Mrs Jordan says Lucy’s dog can’t stay anymore, Lucy decides to stay with her aunt. Which makes for a happier Christmas for everyone.

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Bugsy (Pages: 52-53)

Bugsy takes his niece Bugella to see Santa Bug, but Santa doesn’t arrive. After investigation Bugsy finds Santa Bug’s sleigh is stuck. Using his plane he is able to deliver Santa Bug to the department store.

Girls Talking (Pages: 56 & 79)

Twp short strips, consisting of 1 small picture and a a big picture that takes up the full page, I like this layout and they were fun quick jokes. In the first strip Liz emails Lucy with news and it is revealed they are sitting right next to each other. In the second strip Lucy wraps present and then realises the box doesn’t contain the present.

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Squeakie (Pages: 57-63)

  • Writer: Maureen Hartley

Alice Scott is delighted to get a Squeakie toy for Christmas (This toy appears to be based on Furby, which was first released in 1998 and even today still a popular toy). Squeakie can repeat back what Alice ays, but then trouble starts, as it begins to say back private thoughts she had too, such as spoiling her gran’s surprise party and insulting her friend’s taste in music. At first Alice thinks that she may have accidentally said those things aloud but when it keeps happening she gets creeped out and decides to get rid of it. She takes it to a shop and gets an exchange after been told that it was a prototype that shouldn’t have been sold. Alice is relieved but is still going to be cautious about her new Squeakie and not teach it to talk. After Alice leaves the room, the last panel shows the new Squeakie is even worse as he declares he will make her last Squeakie look like a pussycat! I’ve seen similar stories, often with ventriloquist dummy, using the furby like toy is a nice update and of course the foreboding creepy ending works well, just when the protagonist thinks she’s solved her problem!

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Space Cadet (Pages: 67-74)

  • Artist: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

Fiona Miller is annoyed by her younger sister Debbie, who is a sci-fi enthusiast. Debbie is particularly obsessed by a video game Space Cadet. But when Debbie starts acting nice and considerate, Fiona begins to suspect something is wrong. Then she sees Debbie with a green face talking to an alien n the tv screen, she tries to tell her parents but of course they don’t believe her. She figures out that this new “Debbie” has just replaced her sister and the real Debbie must be held someplace. It’s up to Fiona to rescue her sister, so she follows the alien to it’s ship. With the help  of her hockey stick Fiona is able to free her sister and they both escape the ship.

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This is my favourite art/colouring in the book. It is very vibrant colours but fits nicely not overpowering the details of the art. There is also some more interesting layout of the panels. The story is fun too, I am always a sucker for sci-fi stories anyway!

Selfish Sarah (Pages: 99-103)

  • Writer: Anne Bulcraig
  • Artist: Eduardo Feito

There’s already been discussion on this story as it first appeared under the name Green Fingers in the Mandy Picture Story Library Scream! The story has been redrawn here by Eduardo Feito (rather than original artist Carlos Freixas) this may be so it would fit better with the annual format more than the smaller sized picture library. There is some slight changes to the dialogue too but this is less noticeable.

The story is about a girl Sarah Peters, who is very selfish and never helps anyone if  it won’t benefit her. When she learns a Green Issue project for school has a cash prize, she becomes interested in a plant that has leaves shaped like hearts and cute animals, as she believes that it will help her win. After the owner spends some time with Sarah, she decides she can’t give her a cutting as she isn’t suitable. Sarah later sneaks over and takes a cutting anyway. Soon after the cutting begins to change shapes, into toads and witches, reflecting the kind of person Sarah is. The plant’s owner knows she took a cutting and warns her to bring it back before it’s too late. But of course Sarah doesn’t listen, and when she goes home she finds the plant has grown rapidly taking over her bedroom and it grabs her, leaving her screaming for help.

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I do prefer the original art, but it is interesting to see another interpretation. I like Eduardo Feito’s  art in general and the end panel with the hand like plants reaching for Sarah is very effective. I think the bigger problem is the colouring swallows up some details, like the leave shapes, that would be more clearer in black and white. The story is still a solid, scary story with the bad girl getting fitting punishment, so I can see why it would be chosen for reprint.

The Four Marys (Pages: 107-111)

  • Artist: Barrie Mitchell (unconfirmed)

The second Four Marys story also has a plot revolving around animals. This time Josie another student at St. Elmos tends to pick up animals that need helping. First she is hiding a hedgehog and nursing it back to health after it was hit by a car and  later an owl. With the Marys help they get permission to set up an animal hospital in the basement. Mabel and Veronica aren’t happy of course, as they think the basement would make a great den where they could play loud music. The snobs try to sabotage the project bu sending a letter to the school governor that animals were being kept in poor conditions and then messing up the hospital. Luckily the Marys overhear and catch them in the act. They make them clean up the mess they made and the visit by the governor goes well.

I usually find it hard to say much about the Four Marys, as a lot of times the stories are fairly standard for them. Not bad, just a bit repetitive. It is nice to see some more diversity in this story with Josie.

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Lost in the Snow (Pages: 115-120)

  • Writer: Maureen Hartley
  • Artist: Peter Wilkes

Jade is disappointed that because of heavy snow, it looks like her grandparents won’t make it for Christmas. Later Jade is disturbed by a dog barking, he seems to want her to follow him. Jade and her father go to investigate and the dog leads them to a car stuck in the snowdrift. They find a family nearby looking for help, but then the dog disappears and they say that they don’t own a dog.  They end up having a good Christmas with their unexpected guests, but Jade still wonders where the dog came from. After inquiring to some neighbours, they say there are many black and white collies around the nearby farms. One boy jokes it could have been Bruce, a local tale of a dog who saved his master from a fire and died years ago but always turns up to help people in trouble. Later Jade sees a dog up on the hill, but when she goes to look he is gone and the are no paw-prints in the snow…

A nice little ghost mystery with some good art. I like the contrast of the bright, warm colours when they are inside and the colder colours out in the snow.

Lost in the Snow

Janie Jungle Nurse

  • Janie Jungle Nurse –  Emma: #24 (05 August 1978) – #29 (09 September 1978)

Plot

Jane Morrison is a newly qualified nurse and is set to join her Uncle Harry’s practice located in the African bush. When she arrives it is not quite what she expected, instead of a fine clinic, Harry runs his practice from a leaky old boat “The Flying Queen” and accepts whatever payment  he can including chickens! It seems Janie read more into his letters  then was actually there. The only staff he has is a young girl Kari, who would like to be a nurse and her parents. Janie wants to go home the next day but as there are no buses she is stuck for the meantime. When a fire breaks out a nearby village, Janie saves a young child and Harry is impressed by her work and quick thinking. Janie is still ready to leave as soon as possible. Her plans are blocked when Harry falls ill and despite her best efforts, he passes away after making her promise to carry on his work.

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With the help of Kari, Janie sets out to live up to her promise. She feels she has to earn the villagers trust and prove to them (and herself) that she can take Harry’s place. So when there is a mad bull on the loose, Janie tackles the problem herself by spearing it with a sleeping dose. The next episode is even more dramatic as a helicopter lands and men grab Janie and Kari. They tell her they are freedom fighters and they need medical treatment for a hostage as he is no good to them dead. He then threatens her, if the hostage dies then she will die too. The hostage is the son of British Consulate, and Janie quickly comes up with a plan. She says she needs a particular medicine which she uses an opportunity to slip out a secret message. When the group are distracted by arrival of government helicopters, Janie takes out their guard with chloroform and uses his gun to hold off the others. As thanks, for saving his son’s life the Consulate sends Janie a load of medical supplies.

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Next a couple, Mr and Mrs Farr arrive claiming Harry had invited them to spend some time on The Flying Queen. Janie agrees to host them but think there is something off about them. When a local tribe offer to share a feast she is not happy to hear they are eating elephant meat, but they claim they didn’t kill it, they found it dead without tusks. Everyone starts feeling drowsy and on the way back to the boat, Mrs Farr falls into the water. Janie fights off her own drowsiness to jump in at save her, under the water she also see the tusks tied under the boat. She confronts Mr Farr, and gets him to confess to what drug he shot the elephant with (which was still in the meat they ate), Soon after the district officer takes the Farrs away.

Janie’s not the only one that can be quick thinking. Kari proves her worth when they need money for oranges, (for patients lacking vitamin C), Kari shows Janie how to barter and exchange things at the market. When thieves run by, Kari trips them with a spear she just got and then pins thief with spear when he grabs Janie. The next episode sees more thieves as Janie is picking up medical supplies at the supply post. Janie tries to stop the men and in the struggle some bottles get broken. When they go to leave in their  truck, Janie still won’t give up smashing a glass bottle in front of the tyres. They then say they will use her boat to carry the supplies. Then one of the men comes out in red spots, Janie says he is highly contagious and deadly and both men need injections immediately. Obviously not the smartest of men they agree to this and Janie sends them to sleep. It was just an allergic reaction to the smashed bottles earlier but Janie has used it to her advantage. This is the last episode but still left the possibility of further adventures as Janie says life as a Jungle nurse is never boring!

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Thoughts

This is quite a short story and the pacing isn’t great it feels rushed in places. Considering that issue #30 of Emma introduced 6 new stories, it seems likely that there was pressure to shorten the story, to make way for these new stories. The new line up was a stronger set of stories and included a new nurse story Holly of Hazard Unit that ran for 19 issues.

The premise of Janie Jungle Nurse, seems solid enough the character of Janie is not happy to find that the great clinic she imagined is actually an old boat and she wants to leave as soon as she can. In the first episode she comes across as a bit bratty and as she is stuck there for the time being it would be a good point to let the character grow and slowly overcome her reluctance. Instead it’s very jarring to start the next episode with Uncle Harry on his death bed, with no build up to an illness and Janie promising to continue his work.  She does briefly mention she would rather go back to England but won’t break her promise. But then the rest of the episodes she’s fully involved in helping and wanting to prove herself, a complete turnaround.

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Also quite underdeveloped is some other characters, Kari’s parents, usually just hang around in the background, her mother is never even named and doesn’t even get a line to speak. Her father does a bit better, he is named as Zake but only gets some input in episode 2. It would also have been nice to see Janie help more with Kari’s nursing ambitions, but this isn’t mentioned after the first episode again. Overall there isn’t much time spent on actual nursing, as the focus is usually  on more extreme situations, namely defeating kidnappers, thieves and poachers!

Of course there is no rule that says the story should  focus on her profession more, it works fine as a more action orientated story. The artwork certainly helps capture the action scenes and interesting surroundings. Each episode was quite action packed and Janie is very proactive  and capable. There is a lot to admire about Janie and she is very brave and adept at action. Actually a lot of the Emma stories had capable fighters as protagonists, whether it be because of the situation they found themselves in (e.g. Angie) or because they trained themselves (e.g. Yang Ling). The ending does seem to leave it open for a return of more adventures, if it was popular enough. But being so short it didn’t seem to catch the same attention that other stories did and as well there were more deserving stories that I would pick first for follow ups. Of course the Emma comic itself was also short lived, lessening the chance of Janie to return.

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Beyond a Strange Door…

  • Beyond a Strange Door… – Debbie PSL: #150 [1990]

Plot

beyond-a-strange-doorDamian Darke introduces us to four short stories, each involving a strange happenings with mysterious houses.

In the first story a Maddy Thomas moves to a new house in the country with her family. On the first day she sees a shadowy figure in the woods beside the house but then it dissappears. When they settle into the house her father says that now they have a big backyard, Bobby, the dog, can now sleep outside in his new kennel. But Bobby seems to be scared of sleeping outside.He  refuses to eat and even when they take him back inside he seems to be wasting away. At night a boy appears to Maddy demanding she give him back his dog. Her parent’s wake her up from her nightmare, but Maddy’s still sick with worry, s the call a doctor. Maddy overhears the doctor telling her parents, that the dream she had was very strange considering there is a story about the house being haunted by a boy who drowned while looking for his dog. Later, when Mr Thomas is clearing some old furniture they find a diary of Tomas’s father – he tells off  how he had to put downThoamas’ dog, but was afraid to tell his son. That night Maddy goes to the woods to confront Thomas and show him where his dog is buried. Thomas doesn’t believe her at first but then he is reunited with his dog. Maddy wakes up in bed and thinks its all a dream, but Bobby has somehow made a miraculous recovery, so Damian Darke questions how much of it was a dream…

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In the next story siblings Alan and Jean aren’t too happy to have to spend Christmas with their aunt Clarissa, while their parents work. Even though rhey are stuck being with their miserable aunt , who won’t even buy a Christmas tree,  they try to make the best of it. Their laughter and energy seems to awaken two ghost children Edward and Charlotte. They comment on how the house should have more decorations for Christmas, making them appear and not realising that Clarissa can see the things they do. They make it dissappear again, but Clarissa blames Alan and Jean. Clarissa doesn’t lighten up, when Alan and Jean make friends with neighbour children, she gets rid of them quickly, showing her snobbery as she tells Jean and Alan that those children were poor and probably thieves. Edward thinks its time for her to have a few shocks, and plays tricks such as putting pepper all her her dinner. Of course this only makes things worse for the children, which Charlotte had warned him about. After this Charlotte has a better idea, showing Clarissa a happy childhood memory of Christmas and then taking it away. Clarissa is upset and wonders how she has become so hard over the years. Jean and Alan find and comfort her, she makes things up to them, buying christmas tree and inviting neighbours for Christmas.

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In the third story Vicky and her family are holidaying in an old boarding house. Vicky meets a young girl, Margaret, who seems nice but something seems off about her, she says Vicky has the same name as the queen and talks about things that aren’t there. She wonders if the house is haunted, she asks landlady, Mrs Lane, about Margaret saying and is relieved to know she exists. Vicky gets Margeret a doll for her birthday, when she gives it to her, Margaret seems confused saying her birthday was ages ago, but she is delighted with the gift. Later she is confused when Margaret appears calling her a lier, saying that she hasn’t seen her in ages and her mother says she doesn’t exist. Vicky tries t follow her, but finds the room has gone cold and creepy. Vicky is worried about Margaret’s confusion and when she goes to talk to Mrs Lane, she shocked to overhear her  talk so callously about Margaret dying. She tells her parents and they decide they should leave, Mrs Lane is surprised but even more surprised when Vicky says she doesn’t care that her daughter is dying. She tells them she doesn’t have a daughter and introduces her to an old woman Margaret who grew up in the house and had agreed that she could live the rest of her life out in the house. Margaret recognises Vicky and shows her she still has the doll Vicky gave her, it is all old now. It turns out Vicky was the ghost all along!

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In the last story Julia Mason makes friends with her neighbour, Penny when her Mom and her move to new house. Penny seems to be a lonely girl, and Julia says she will help her with her tennis but they will have to do it in secret. Under Julia’s guidance, Penny wins the school tournament. Watching her, Julia doesn’t think Penny will need her any more and she also thinks her Mom will be fine. After the match Penny’s  father introduces her to Ms Mason.  Penny asks her where Julia is, and tells her that Julia has been coaching her. This shocks Ms Mason, because her daughter, a promising tennis player passed away two years ago not long after her father. Seeing that Penny isn’t joking Ms Mason tells her she always felt Julia presence with her too, she invites Penny and her father back to her house. Penny thinks Julia has helped her many ways and may even have found a new mother for her.

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Thoughts

Continuing with more Damian Darke stories for Halloween, this is a good collection of stories. While all stories deal with the supernatural, there is a nice mix of spooky, with some lighter stories too. None of the ghosts are vengeful or vicious, Thomas in the first story comes the closest, as he seems to be a danger to Bobby, but in the end it is not maliciousness but a misunderstanding. The placing of the stories are well done, both the first and third are the creepiest, so there is a nice balance. Some psl books that have a collection of stories (like Scream) use different artists for each story. This book only has one artist, which I guess makes sense as Damian Darke is tying all the stories together and the artist does a good job here. My favourite of the stories is the third story, in a short space it establishes something mysterious with Margaret, then lulls the reader into false security as Mrs Lane knows of Margaret’s existence, so she can’t be a ghost. Then of course the twist at the end that Vicky was the ghost haunting the house.

The book does well in telling satisfying stories in such a short space. Taking into consideration a recent post about Steve MacManus book on the jinty resource site, and that stories were measured by panel numbers, I looked at how these stories measured up.

  • First story – 39 panels
  • Second story – 40 panels
  • Third story – 40 panels
  • Fourth story -21 panels

The first three stories have a pretty even spread. While they are quite short, I was surprised that they do have a lot of panels. Looking at some Damian Darke stories from the weekly Spellbound, those stories had a lot less panels (less than 20 panels for at least 4 stories that I counted). Of course a disadvantage of the psl is what they can do with the panels is more limited, usually pages are split in two rectangular panels or sometimes three panels, there is less space to use more imaginative layout. The first page of this psl is given to Damian Darke’s introduction which is quite effective.

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