Category Archives: Lucky Charm

Lucky Charm #25: Catch the Cat! [1976]

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Lucky Charm: #25

Reprinted from Bunty serial: Bunty: #926 (11 October 1975) – #955 (1 May 1976)

Artists: Hugh Thornton-Jones (cover); Unknown (story)

Special thanks to “Phoenix” for making this entry possible with photocopies

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Plot (long)

In World War II, the Nazis have just defeated France. Marie Bonnet’s father is mayor of a small French town. Marie’s friends Josee and Burnetta believe the town should do something to resist the Nazis and expect Marie’s mayor father to do something in that regard. However, he believes the Nazis are too strong for that, and submission and obeisance are the only answer if people know what’s good for them. Mum agrees while Marie secretly wants to fight the Nazis, but she has no idea how to go about it.

A scientist friend comes to say goodbye as he has to flee from the Nazis because of his occupation. His daughter Jacqueline leaves Marie a box of her childhood things for safekeeping. Its contents include a prize-winning fancy-dress cat costume and, surprisingly, suction pads. It does not take long for Marie to become really adept with the suction pads.

The Nazis arrive and replace the French flag with the swastika flag on the highest building in town. Dad and Marie greet the new Commandant with a tremendous show of obeisance and servility – much to the disgust of Josee and Burnetta. From then on they call Marie a traitor and are her worst enemies out of all the girls who soon ostracise her at school for her apparent collaboration. They do not realise that Marie has now cemented her plan to resist the Nazis, and those suction pads, cat costume and show of servility are just the thing for it.

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Next day, the Nazis discover that someone has restored the French flag to the flagpole. The only clue is a card the culprit left behind, which is of a black cat. The Commandant realises there is a new resistance fighter on the block who calls himself “The Cat”. Apart from the gender, the Commandant is absolutely right. Marie’s career as The Cat has been born. And although The Cat’s debut deed of defiance can only last until the Commandant puts the swastika flag back, it has caught the attention of the entire town.

The Cat soon shines as the beacon of hope, pride and fighting spirit of the townsfolk against the Nazis. Marie’s show of servility and friendliness to the Nazis, endorsed by her father, is now the perfect cover for throwing off suspicion and to worm information out of the Nazis. But there is a high price to pay for it – Marie becomes shunned and friendless at school for her apparent collaboration. They do not listen to Marie’s excuses that it is foolish to defy the Nazis and they call her a coward while they try to be defiant. Marie can only take solace at the thought that one day the girls will know the truth about her. For now, though, nobody must know for their own protection.

The Nazis lose no time in printing “Wanted” posters of The Cat (how odd that they include a pretty accurate picture when they do not even know what The Cat looks like at this stage) – and ironically give Marie the job of putting them up! But what’s really despicable and so typical of Nazis is that they take a hostage to force The Cat to surrender; the hostage will be executed if The Cat does not surrender by a certain deadline. The Cat rescues the hostage en route to execution and leaves another calling card.

From then on it is a long, extraordinary career of single-handed resistance work in rescuing Allied soldiers and other prisoners, sabotage, foiling Nazi plots to capture her, recovering items the Nazis have stolen, stealing Nazi top secrets, Robin Hood-style thefts of stealing from the Nazis and giving to the townsfolk, constantly dodging bullets, and all with nothing more than a costume, suction pads, incredible gymnastics skills and amazingly sharp wits that always seem to get her out of every scrape. Where possible, The Cat always leaves her calling card so the Commandant knows who to blame. In the first story it is cards with a cat or cat’s paw, sometimes carrying the words “Vive La France!”. In subsequent stories the signature will change to a scrawl of a cat’s face, sometimes accompanied by “Vive La France!” on whatever surface is to hand. This is probably because it is easier to leave a scrawl than print a business card.

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The subsequent escapades of The Cat in the Lucky Charm volume are listed below. (Note that I do not have the original run available for comparison, so there is currently no way to determine if the reprint edited or deleted anything in order to fit into the issue.)

1: The Nazis are forcing the local men to build a factory in the woods, and the location is too deep for Allied bombers to penetrate effectively. The Cat helps the Allies destroy the factory by bringing in some flares stolen from the Nazis’ ammunition stores. She uses them to lighten things up on the tallest tower in the complex so the Allied can see where to hit.

2: Marie has to hide a downed Allied airman and then steals a German truck to drive him to the coast (isn’t she a bit young to be able to drive?) where the Resistance can take him to safety. This causes an awkward moment afterwards when Marie has to explain to the Commandant as to how she came into be in possession of a stolen German truck. The Commandant swallows her cover story (she was bringing back a stolen German truck). But his new aide, Colonel Krantz, is suspicious of her, and Marie realises it when she sees Krantz keeping a close watch on her.

2: The Nazis are forcing the townsfolk to pay exorbitant taxes they cannot afford. The Cat breaks into the bank to get the tax money back for the people and offsets it against the market produce so it can be given away free. She then eliminates the Krantz threat by framing him for the bank robbery. Krantz is arrested while the Commandant cannot understand why the townsfolk are looking so happy.

3: A supply train is due to arrive and the Commandant is press-ganging all the people in town to unload it (except Marie, who is excused to work in his office). The Cat hijacks the train before it arrives (she can drive a train too?) and wrecks it. The Gestapo are called, and they send in a Herr Kranzten (later called Herr Kranz), who immediately seizes on a fatal flaw in The Cat’s costume – it does not cover the hands. So The Cat would have left fingerprints all over the controls. Kranzten then starts fingerprinting everyone in town and makes no exception for Marie. The Cat breaks into the office later and destroys all the fingerprint files taken – and also manages to dump a truckload of sand all over Krantzen while she’s at it!

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Realising The Cat must be a young person, Krantzen has everyone aged 14–30 rounded up, and Marie is among them. They will be fingerprinted again, and the Nazis will take another set of The Cat’s fingerprints from the train to compare with. Marie uses her servility to the Commandant to wangle a release and then heads back to the train to destroy the evidence. Marie decides The Cat will wear gloves from now on – but never does add gloves to her costume. So she continues to leave fingerprints around, which the Nazis never seem to follow up on again.

Krantzen tries another tactic. Recalling The Cat’s recent mission to get a British airman to safety, he rigs up a Gestapo agent, von Gelber, as a phony downed British airman to lead The Cat into a trap. The Cat finds it odd that the airman said he was from a bombing crew while a friendly bargeman, Antoine, says there have been no Allied bombing raids for weeks. However, The Cat unwisely thinks she misunderstood the airman and does not really follow her instincts that something is wrong. So she nearly falls into the trap when Von Gelber pulls a gun on her, but she manages to overpower him and sends them both toppling into the river (a soldier who can’t swim?). She brings him to Antoine for safekeeping. She then leaves a letter for the Commandant that Von Gelber will be returned in exchange for the town having double rations. Both sides of the bargain are met, but The Cat has a hard time getting away after returning Von Gelber (in a rather undignified and terrifying manner) when she slips on the roof tiles and nearly falls to her death.

Krantzen now takes his leave, but before he does he takes the paintings the town is famous for. However, with the help of a loyal Frenchman The Cat intercepts the truck and the paintings are secretly returned to the townsfolk, who hide them until after the war. When the Nazis discover The Cat has foiled their art plundering, Krantzen is stripped of all rank, reduced to Private, and wishes he had never heard of The Cat.

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5: The Cat is returning home after sabotaging a Nazi supply store by leaving a hose to run and flood the place. She sees a man making queries with Josee and Burnetta about The Cat. They tell him to shove off in case he is a spy, but Marie decides to check it out in case the man is genuine. It looks like word about The Cat has reached British intelligence, because Josee and Burnetta tell Marie that the man has a message for The Cat: London will broadcast a secret message for The Cat at 5 o’clock that evening (funny how they despise Marie as a traitor yet they give her top secret information!). The message is coded, but Marie understands enough to realise she must meet “The Bulldog” – who is the man, of course. The Cat arranges a rendezvous, but when she gets there, she sees the Nazis capture The Bulldog, who also shoot him in the arm. The Cat manages to rescue The Bulldog and they escape on a motorcycle (so The Cat can ride a motorcycle too!).

Unfortunately the Nazis took The Bulldog’s plans of a local Resistance group – and all the names of the resisters are on it! The Bulldog goes to the resisters get his arm seen to while The Cat goes to get the papers back. She succeeds and flees on a horse, but the Nazis telephone for reinforcements. By the time The Cat catches up with The Bulldog, she, The Bulldog and the Resistance group are in danger from enclosing Nazis. The Resistance group do not trust The Cat and The Bulldog can’t vouch for her as he is unconscious. The resisters almost unmask The Cat when the Nazis open fire. This sends the resisters scattering into the woods. The Nazis try to flush them out by setting fire to the wood, but they get away by river barge. En route, The Bulldog regains consciousness and tells The Cat to stockpile as many weapons as she can for the upcoming Allied invasion of France (which indicates about four years have passed since Marie’s career began). The Cat then takes her leave of the resisters and dives into the river.

When The Cat finds a place to strip off her wet cat suit, she hides the cat suit in a bag and piles firewood on top of it. This will lead straight to her next adventure, which starts on the way home.

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6: The Nazis are on high alert following The Cat’s latest adventure with the resisters and they are stopping and checking everyone. When they stop Marie, they confiscate the bag with the firewood put it in an army truck. Marie will be in dead trouble once the Nazis search the bag properly and discover her cat costume. She jumps into the truck, but there is a guard inside who pulls a gun on her. When the truck goes over a bump in the road it gives Marie the chance to jump out, but the Nazis still have the sack and take it to their barracks. Marie manages to break into the barracks and get her costume back, but deems it the narrowest escape The Cat has ever had.

Unfortunately Marie soon discovers it is not the end of the story. At school the Nazis order an identity parade of the girls to pick out the one who broke into the guardhouse. The Nazis misidentify a girl named Yvonne as the culprit and she is arrested for deportation to Germany. The Cat has to rescue Yvonne and, knowing Yvonne cannot return to her parents, get her to her grandmother. The Cat snoops in on the Commandant to get more information on Yvonne’s deportation. She overhears what she needs to know, but then finds there are new searchlights waiting for her and guards are surrounding the place. She has to take a very high dive into a swimming pool to avoid being caught. That narrow escape has The Cat realise the Commandant is getting smarter and she must be more careful with him.

In her civilian identity, The Cat slips aboard the train Yvonne is on. They fake Yvonne jumping off the train to draw the guards out, then The Cat disguises Yvonne and puts her on another carriage, telling her to get off at Lavere station where someone will be waiting for her. Yvonne is surprised to find that person is Marie, and Marie claims to know The Cat when everyone thinks she is a collaborator. Marie ‘fetches’ The Cat to smuggle Yvonne to a sympathiser who will take her to her grandmother’s. When The Cat gets back, she has another narrow escape when the railwayman finds her hidden shopping basket and then her. Being Italian, he is only too happy to turn her over. She manages to escape while the railwayman is distracted by a German guard and jumps a train that is going in the direction she wants. On the way home she discovers the train is carrying food parcels for the German garrison. She loosens the retaining pins so the parcels will tumble out for the French to retrieve, and they are most grateful to The Cat.

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7: From this latest escapade, the Nazis know The Cat has lost a shopping basket, so they put out the alert for anyone who tries to buy one. They soon hear that only one such purchase has been made – by the Bonnets. The Commandant orders a search of the Bonnet house despite their apparent collaboration as he believes nothing is too impossible for the French. When they arrive, Marie has to hide her Cat disguise, and it goes up in the loft. Unfortunately the Nazis begin to search that too! Marie pulls the rug out from under them and then directs them to a ladder downstairs. Foolishly, they both go downstairs, leaving Marie unguarded. She now shifts the costume to her bedroom as the Nazis have already searched there. The Nazis turn up empty and decide it was a false alarm. Boy, oh boy – that was the closest the Commandant has come yet to unmasking The Cat. He later apologises to Marie for the search and gives her chocolate to make amends. What a hoot!

8: That same evening, a friend named Madame Foulard is worried because her daughter Carrie is ill. She needs medicine, but the Nazis won’t release any from their stores. So it’s another mission for The Cat. She breaks into the town hospital, which is under German guard. She grabs as many medicines as she can as she does not know which one is the right one. During the getaway she cuts her hand on a grate, and the Nazis discover this when they see the blood left behind. The alert goes out to bring in anyone with a bandaged hand. The doctor picks out the correct medicine and Carrie is soon on the road to recovery. The doctor also treats The Cat’s hand. But the doctor realises the Nazis may be onto this, so he gives out the order for everyone in town to bandage their hands – too many people for the Nazis to check. Some days later the bandages are off, except for Marie’s. Josee and Burnetta scorn Marie for still having her hand bandaged like that, not realising that they bandaged their own hands for her.

Thoughts

The 1975–6 “Catch the Cat” story was one of the most popular and enduring serials ever to appear in Bunty. The Cat is still one of the best-remembered heroines in girls’ comics. The original Cat story spawned two follow-up serials, one Bunty PSL, Catch the Cat appearances in four Bunty annuals, and was of course reprinted in Lucky Charm #25.

All three Cat serials ended on open endings to leave scope for more sequels. This meant the day Marie dreamed of where she would reveal the truth and the bullies who called her a traitor would be silenced never came. Which is rather sad, really. It would have made for some very thrilling panels to see the town liberated, The Cat coming down to cheering crowds and pulling her mask off in front of them and the captured Commandant – and then watch everyone’s jaw hit the ground! The third Cat story had a slightly more definite ending, where Marie is forced to fake the death of The Cat when the Commandant executes a manhunt for The Cat that tears up the whole town. Marie swears The Cat will return. Unfortunately this would reveal to the Nazis that The Cat is not dead after all, which makes things a bit awkward. Maybe Marie should find a new costumed identity. In any case, that is where the regular story of The Cat ends in Bunty.

There are so many reasons why The Cat is so popular. The first is that she is one of the most proactive heroines ever in girls’ comics. That incredible gymnastics ability and suction pads that have her scaling buildings, leaping onto trucks, diving into rivers, getting over fences and so many other feats of agility seem to be almost superhuman. Plus there are those amazing wits of hers. She always comes up with a plan, and whenever she is cornered she always has something up her sleeve to get her out of trouble. Sometimes this stretches the boundaries of credibility, such as The Cat being able to operate trucks, motorbikes and trains at her age. But on the whole it is exciting and admirable. Even Josee and Burnetta say The Cat is too smart to be caught by the Nazis. Indeed, it would take a Nazi of extreme wit and cunning to match The Cat, and the Commandant definitely is not it. He is not stupid or incompetent, but he is not shrewd enough to ever get the better of The Cat and he has been completely duped by Marie’s servility to ever suspect her. Which is course one of the reasons why The Cat never gets caught.

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Furthermore, the things Marie gets up to against the Nazis are more typical of boys’ comics or Commandos: blowing things up, sabotage, breaking into military complexes, hijacking, robbery, kidnapping, framing enemies to dispose of them and other things that girls are not normally expected to do, especially in the pre-feminist 1940s. Girls must have loved to see action like that in Bunty, which made a change from the more typical stories about ill-used heroines. The writer must have had a lot of experience in writing war stories in the industry. There would be some appeal to boys here as well, what with the heroine being a girl of action and the story having a war setting. Mind you, it cannot be said how many boys actually read The Cat.

And who doesn’t love a good story where Nazis get their comeuppance? Though there never is a defining moment showing the Nazis being pushed out of France, readers smile and cheer again and again as The Cat strikes yet another one over Hitler yet. Readers love it when the Nazis are left looking sour and furious, and they often wind up in the most embarrassing and undignified situations because of The Cat.

Also, Marie is a sympathetic heroine because what she has to endure as part of her cover: being bullied and ostracised by girls who think she is a collaborator. Marie consoles herself with thoughts that one day they will know the truth, and it would be dangerous for them to know the truth now. But she can’t help but feel lonely and miserable and having no-one who understands. Except for us readers, of course.

For all their bullying, Josee and Burnetta play an odd role in helping The Cat. They despise Marie, yet they always supply her with information, such as telling her London is going to broadcast a coded message for The Cat. Oh really, girls – did nobody ever tell you that loose lips sink ships? And if you think Marie is a traitor, she is the last person you should tell!

It is very odd that everyone always addresses The Cat as a “he”. It may be 1940s sexism, but nobody ever seems to realise The Cat is female, not even people who are in close proximity to The Cat. Whatever the reason, it must also help Marie to preserve her secret. Nobody ever discovers the secret of The Cat and she never gets caught. Of course there are moments when the Nazis come close, but a cat has nine lives after all.

 

List of Appearances:

  • Catch the Cat! –  Bunty:   #926 (11 October 1975) – #955 (1 May 1976)
    • Reprinted – Lucky Charm #25
  • Catch the Cat!  – Bunty:   #1148 (12 January 1980) – #1164 (03 May 1980)
    • [Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones]
  • Catch the Cat! –  Bunty:   #1490 (02 August 1986) – #1501 (18 October 1986)
    • [Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones]

Other Appearances:

  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1979
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1980
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1981
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1982

 

Angel

Overview

In Victorian times, a wealthy young girl, Angela Hamilton, discovers has only a year to live. She decides to dedicate her remaining time to helping the poor waifs of London and earns the name Miss Angel. Despite her story being concluded, the character proved to be popular enough to return in sequels. These sequels were framed by girls reading untold stories from Angel’s diary or in the case of some Annual appearances stories told by the children she helped.

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  • Angel – Mandy :  #529 (05 March 1977) –  #548 (16 July 1977)
  • Art: Dudley Wynne

Plot

In Victorian London, 14 year old Angela Hamilton lives with her wealthy parents. While out with her parents she thinks how unfair it is that she has so much, while there are children on the streets suffering such poverty. When she brings this up with her parents, they tell  her not to distress about such things, they want her to be happy and carefree. She plans to use her education and position to help the poor when she is older. But soon after she collapses and the doctor diagnoses her with a rare condition that has no cure, he tells her parents that she only has a year to live. Her parents are devastated by the news but decide they must keep it secret from  Angela so they can  make her last days happy.  Angela overhears them talking and makes her own plans, she pretends not to know anything and then fakes her death, thinking this would be less cruel and drawn out for her parents. Then she will devote what little time she has left to the poor in London.

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Her first day in her new life, she gets lost on the way to the market. She meets a young boy Alfie and after helping him against some thugs, Alfie shows her the way and she buys him food. He then takes her to his young sister, Sarah,  who has an injured leg. Angela takes her to a hospital where they bandage her leg but refuse to give her a bed. The lodgings where Angela is staying also refuse to let her bring in two dirty urchins with her. Angela, Alfie and Sarah end up under the railway bridge for the night with other children.  One of the children asks Alfie who she is, Alfie says her name is Miss Angela but he reckons she should be called Miss Angel.  The next day Miss Angel finds better accommodation in a big stables. Starting with the small group of children she soon adds more to her group. A humpback named Annie she rescues and also gives her more confidence by encouraging her musical talent and teaching her to play the violin.  Usually each child she rescues has other problems other than a need of food and shelter, such as Harry who is very prideful and doesn’t like to take charity or Mary who is distrustful and  seemingly deaf making communication difficult. Miss Angel always comes up with a scheme to help the children. Also Angel helps them in practical ways, teaching them skills they can use to work and earn money after she is gone. As time goes on Angel gets weaker and knows her time is short.

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One day Miss Angel and the kids come across the Hamiltons, as Angel hides Julia Hamilton encourages her husband to buy flowers from Alfie as she remembers Angela being an advocate for such children. When Alfie tells them of Miss Angel and her work she tells him to send her to their home to get spare  blankets and warm clothes for the Winter. Angel knows the children will need such things but wonders how to get them without revealing she is alive. A child gives her the idea to cover herself in spots so she can cover up and say she has a rash. After this Angel continues her work helping not only those in the stable but others in the street too. One day she helps a drunk man, who turns out to be a doctor who turned his back on medicine after a mistake led the death of a patient. Angel helps him sober up and after convincing him to return to medicine, she has found a helpful ally.

Coming to the end of her time, Angel visits her old home one last time. Concerned Alfie follows her and gets her back to stablehouse after she collapses. When Dr Shaw exams her he understands her condition and breaks the news to Annie and Alfie that she will not live long. Alfie thinks if they had money for medicine she would live longer, so he goes to the house he saw Angel visit. He tells the Hamiltons of Miss Angel and how he thinks she is their daughter. The Hamiltons are surprised but come to the stable house and are reunited with Angela. They stay by her side for 3 days until Angela passes away. Before she goes her parents tell her that along with Dr. Shaw, they are going to continue her good work. After the funeral the Hamiltons give over their house for as a home for Angel’s waifs and erect a statue in memory of Miss Angel.

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Thoughts

I can see why this is a popular story the art is beautiful and the story is well told. It doesn’t shy away from the tragedy, of the situation, Angel gets progressively sicker and weaker as time goes on and there is no miracle cure found in the end.  While each issue tends to focus on a ‘waif of the week’ that Angel can help, it doesn’t come across as repetitive. One reason is we can see the passage of time, while earlier stories sees her help fight of thugs, later stories see her struggle to carry a basket. Often the person she is helping also ties in with her situation, such as when a previously well off boy, Phillip, who has fallen on hard times comes to the stables, the others give him a hard time. Angel knows she has not much time left and comes up with a scheme to get Phillip accepted as she knows the children will have to rely on each other when she is gone. Another good episode is when she sees her parents, it is hard for her not to go to them, but in the end she knows she is happy with her new family.

Perhaps one problem is the character can be a bit too noble and self sacrificing, in fact a lot of the people she takes in or befriends are a little too good and conscientious. Her parents are equally good people although at least they show some flaw as in the beginning they do not think to concern themselves with lower classes. Angel’s only flaw appears to be her illness, otherwise she is a good, unselfish person who is also shown to be smart, talented and can easily pick up a scrub brush or wash clothes despite never having needed to before. While it may make her character unbelievable to be so good, these saintly qualities of Miss Angel do fit in with the religious undertones of the story.  Often characters thank God or ask God to give them strength, one character swears on a bible in front of Angel to prove that she will less reckless with money. Just before Angel dies she hears the laughter of children and a light shines down on her implying an ascension into heaven. Also the statue erected in the honour and her nickname of Miss Angel all point to her heavenly and saintly attributes.

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The character proved to be so popular that even her death didn’t stop new stories coming out about her.  She returned twice in the Diary of Angel where her diary (that was kept in a museum) would be read by a girl and was full of untold stories that happened in the last year of her life, she also appeared in several annuals. There were many other stories about champions of the poor, Angel was not even the first. The Children’s Champion (Bunty) appeared in 1974 and had a wealthy girl, Hester,  leaves her home to help the poor on the London streets. The difference here is she leaves her home because her parents disapprove of her work and actually disown her. Although they do come around in the end. Another Haven of Hope (Bunty again) appeared in 1979, had Hilary turn over her house to the poor after her parents die. Unlike her other wealthy counterparts, while good hearted, she could also a bit too trusting and naive, falling for the schemes of a young boy working for the Beadle. While these stories were popular they don’t seem to have made the impact that Angel did. Maybe readers preferred more tragedy in their stories and coupled with Dudley Wynne’s art, is why Angel became more popular and well remembered.

List of Appearances:

  • Angel – Mandy :  #529 (05 March 1977) –  #548 (16 July 1977)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #923 (22 September 1984) – #942 (02 February 1985)
  • Reprinted-  Mandy :   #1250 (29 December 1990) – #1269 (11 May 1991)
  • Reprinted – Lucky Charm #7
  • Angel Diary–  Mandy:   circa #782 (16 January 1982) – (?)
  • The Diary of Angel–  M&J:   #01 (18 May 1991) – #15 (24 August 1991)

Other Appearances:

  • Angel – Mandy Annual 1979
  • Angel – Mandy Annual 1984
  • Angel – Mandy Annual 1986
  • Angel – Mandy Annual 1994

For stories from the annuals go to the next page

The Truth About Valda

Overview

  • First Appearance: Mandy #56 (10 February 1968)
  • Art: Dudley Wynne

Valda was a long running and popular character from Mandy. She is a mysterious girl, who gained long lasting life, youth and powers from the fire of life.  She has to bathe in the flames regularly to replenish her youth and strength, whenever she exhausts her powers. The powers and skills that Valda primarily is shown to have are; a youthful appearance, strength, ability to leap great distances, mental influence, a knowledge of herbs and a rapport with animals. As a baby over 200 years ago,  she was found by an  old gypsy woman Dorcas. Dorcas raised her and taught her about herbs and potions and shared with the water of life.  After Dorcas died, Valda continued her quest to find the fire of life. While the flames will restore Valda when she is weak, she also has temporary restoration methods, gained from a crystal pendant she wears.

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Due to her long life, she appeared many times over the years.  She had adventures with hidden tribes and lost worlds, she fought evil forces and sometimes she competed against athletes to  prove her skills.  In her first appearance she challenges the world champion ice skater,  and other stories saw her compete in sports such as tennis and diving. When the Valda serial appeared in Mandy it would usually come under different names such as;  “The Amazing Valda” “The Ten  Tests of Valda”  and “The Return of Valda”. In  1974 her origin was told in the “The Girlhood of Valda“.

valda_02She was an interesting character, and her original inspiration may have been from a boys comic strip from the 1940s “The Truth about Wilson”  in The Wizard, which had some similarities. Obviously she was quite popular character, and is well remembered. She appeared in a lot of the annuals and in the 2002 annual she was updated with a more cartoony and superhero look.

For full list of stories click here

 

The Truth About Valda

  • First Published: Mandy:  #56 (10 February 1968) – #75 (22  June 1968)
  • Art: Dudley Wynne

Plot

In Austria a mysterious stranger interrupts a skating competition, she jumps into the ice rink, skates beautifully accompanied by an eerie music. She asks the judges to mark her performance. A man objects that this stranger is not an entrant but she uses her mental influence to get the judges to mark her. She gets top marks, and she tells the objectors that she is Valda and she is not interested in being named winner, just in testing her skill. When she leaves the two men follow her back up the mountains. She stops them and tells them they won’t be able to follow her any more. She jumps a large ravine and disappears from sight as she enters her cave. She practices skating again, but finds herself feeling tired. She bathes in the blue flames of life and is restored.

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Valda continues to enter in ice skating contests to prove her skill, and many people are intrigued by her. At one contest she says that she doesn’t want any prize but if it’s money to give it to a hospital, St. Griseide. A man realises that’s a hospital that shut down a hundred years ago and wonders how a young girl like her, would think it was still opened. Along her way to another competition she helps some men who were buried in an avalanche, when the rescue party arrive she refuses their help and continues on to the competition. She is just finishing her performance when she collapses. They take her onto a helicopter to bring her to a hospital. She wakes up in the helicopter when it is passing over the mountains and she tells them she can’t go to hospital but thanks them for their help and jumps from the helicopter. She reaches her cave in time to restore her strength.

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As she enters more competitions, people began to question, where she has come from and acknowledge that there is something strange about her. Irena Petrova a mid-European champion, is competing in one such contest that she thinks she is sure to succeed, but her coach warns her that Valda has entered. Irena has heard of rumours of Valda but she doesn’t think that a person who won’t reveal anything about herself should be allowed to enter.  Valda arrives late to the competition due to a road blockage forcing her to skate to the town. After its clear that Valda has won, Irena demands that she be examined by a doctor as no normal person could skate for miles and not be worn out. She thinks she must be sustained by some drug but the doctor finds no evidence of drugs, although he is surprised that her heart beat is strong but beats at a very slow rate.

Valda continues to move up in rankings. When a competition takes her away from her cave for a few days she reserves her energy by arriving in a refrigerated box full of ice. She finally gets her chance to skate against the world champion Ingrid Larson. Ingrid seems conceited, she doesn’t bother with anyone she thinks would waste her time.  She brushes pass an old lady who wants to talk to her. Valda stops to helps the woman who is obviously unwell. Valda recognises the woman as an ice skater named Eva.  Eva also recognises Valda but doesn’t know how its possible as she saw her beat the world ice skating champion fifty years ago. The woman is too ill and weak to question this any further and Valda pulls her on a sled  to a hospital.  On her return she challenges Ingrid to a contest but she has exhausted her strength pulling the sled and suddenly feels weak. Ingrid dismisses her, challenge due to her obvious weakness.  Back at the cave Valda recovers and looks through her old chest containing  photos past skaters that she has beaten.

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Valda once again shows of her ice skating skills to prove to Ingrid she is a worthy challenger. When she comes down the mountains to meet up with Ingrid, she is arrested for crossing the border without papers. She breaks out of jail by bending the window bars, but is not able to face Ingrid until she regains her strength. Later she uses a television crew to get the attention of Ingrid. With it all over the news Ingrid must accept her challenge. She sends her friend Franz to research Valda. While trying to track her on the mountains he falls and Valda rescues him. She takes him to her cave to care for him and he pretends to be asleep but he later he sees her bathing in the fire of life. Valda returns him to the village and he still pretends to be unconscious but the moment he gets a chance, Franz tells Ingrid what he saw. But she believes he is still concussed and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Ingrid skates her best but she is no match for Valda. Franz tries to help her by distracting her with a camera but Ingrid tries to stops him as she wants to win fairly. The camera drops on the ice but Valda  is quick to clear it with a handspring. Ingrid admits defeat gracefully, Valda hands back the title to her, now she is satisfied she has tested herself against the best. She returns home but Franz leads some reporters to the cave. Valda says goodbye to them, then she walks into the flames and she dissappears and the fire goes out. The group just make it outside before an avalanche buries the cave. They muse that they will never learn the truth about Valda and wonder if she will turn up in a another time and place.

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Thoughts

Valda was a favourite character of mine, she was always engaging and just a very cool character. She had lots of different adventures, an interesting background, impressive powers and her stories weren’t repetitive. I think she is a character that would still do well today and could appeal to a lot of people.  She is otherworldly and powerful, but she also has weaknesses. In some stories she shows the burden of a long life being a lonely one and of course there is times where she is physically drained and there is the possibility of death if she can’t bathe in the flames of life. In later stories this is shown more as she begins to age drastically as she weakens. In this first story while she does look tired and weaker when she uses too much of her powers, she doesn’t look old like she will in other stories.

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Her first appearance isn’t the best of her stories, in my opinion (“The Girlhood..” and “The Return of…” would be two of favourites) but it is still good.  She got more development as time went on and I prefer the more adventure/lost world stories, than stories of her competing in sports. Interesting that in this story Irena thinks she may be using drugs to sustain her, this is not true but Valda does have an unfair advantage. The fire of life is like a drug making her stronger and giving her quick reflexes and an ability to leap great lengths. Not to mention that Valda has the advantage of having 200 years of practice.! This is meant to be okay only because she doesn’t take the title of winner and only does this to test her skills. So I think her other adventures are more noble and heroic! Not that she doesn’t show compassion and risks her life to help people in this story, its just that her main motivation is skating against a world champion.

Still if this had been her only appearance it would still be a satisfying story.  A mysterious young girl, who lives in the mountain, challenging some arrogant skating champions to contests.  We find out early that she gains strength from a fire in the mountain, and there are hints of how old she really is. As time goes by we find out more about her yet still know nothing of where she comes from. She arrives and wins contests only to reject all prizes and disappear into the mountain again. Valda seems to stand apart being mysterious, even eerie at times. Yet she still engages with people by being compassionate and helping them when needed. Ingrid, as the world champion actually gets some character development, (for the few issues she’s in)  after starting out quite conceited she is a gracious loser when the time comes.

The art is by the talented Dudley Wynne, and he really does a good job at capturing Valda as the mysterious and beautiful girl. He displays her weakened state convincingly, though like I said later stories would show her more aged. I have little knowledge of ice skating, but these girls do look skilled and talented. I also like her skating outfit, she more commonly wore a lighter sleeveless dress, The mountains, the village and the cold atmosphere, the shadowy cave are all well drawn too.

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Later stories have the fire of life in different places, allowing Valda to have adventures in different places. I haven’t read every Valda story, but I think there may be some continuity issues, such as what powers Valda can use, or the location of the fire, but that still doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the stories.  Valda is a very enduring character and one that really stands out in the history of girls comics.

Balloon of Doom

  • Balloon of Doom –  Bunty:  #1468 (01 March 1986) – #1489 (26 July 1986)
  • Reprinted – Lucky Charm #3
  • Artist:  Robert MacGillivray

Plot

Katherine Wilson’s younger sister, Sarah, arrives home one day with a sinister looking balloon. Sarah describes the balloon as a wizard, and it makes Katherine very uneasy to be around. Some strange weather starts to occur soon after the Balloon’s arrival. The family have to evacuate their house for a time after flooding hits the town. Katherine is the only person to suspect the Balloon in these strange weather occurrences.  She tries to get rid of the Balloon, but finds that she can’t burst it like a normal balloon, and she ends up getting in trouble when she tries. Such as when she catapults a stone at it, the stone bounces off and breaks a church window. Her attempts to burst it only anger the Balloon and it retaliates against her.

When the Wilson’s return home after the flooding  things don’t get any better. Katherine keeps having dreams about a genie, but she doesn’t understand how they can help her. Sarah is turning into a greedy and malicious child. She gets the Balloon to steal a bike for her and it is implied that the Balloon to set fire to the bike shop because the owner wasn’t nice to her.  She also threatens Katherine, because with the “wizard” she can do whatever she wants.

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About halfway into the serial there is shift in the story when Sarah gets sick and Katherine agrees to look after the Balloon. Soon Katherine actually begins to feel sorry for it and though it continues to cause destruction, she believes it isn’t evil. Part of this change of heart is after it saves her life. In the meantime, Katherine’s cousin Nita has come to stay. She is a bit of a Know-It-All, and she is suspicious that Katherine is hiding something. The Balloon seems to have an aversion to bottles, so Nita comes up with her theory that there is a poltergeist in the house, after several bottles smash while she’s holding them. Katherine accidentally discovers that tying a knot in the Balloon leaves it powerless, but Nita while snooping around, unties it and is carried off by the Balloon.

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Katherine goes to stay with her aunt in London, while there she visits a professor for advice. Katherine has the Balloon string knotted again, to keep it powerless but the professor unties it and is carried off by the Balloon. Later at her aunts flat, Katherine loses her temper with the Balloon, after he smashes a precious vase of her aunts. It fixes the vase, so Katherine again thinks it can’t be all bad.  Katherine gets arrested, due to suspicion of involvement with the professor’s disappearance. The Balloon causes more trouble by stealing a plane with the Prime Minister on board. He then breaks Katherine out of jail and she finally gets to communicate with the Balloon, previous to this it had started writing messages, but now it actually talks. Apparently it hasn’t spoken before as “words are weapons of your world”. Katherine points out all the destruction it’s caused, it apparently can’t help the destruction because it is in conflict with our world’s elements. It needs to be attached to a human and not be rejected to stay in control. It does try and redeem itself by saving a family trapped in a fire.

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It then takes her to a mountain where Nita, the professor and the Prime Minister and all the other passengers are all safe. The Balloon is actually a little alien, who’s ship crashed on the way to Venus. His whole alien race were relocating in a small ship filled with bottles. He took the form of the balloon to fit in on earth, but if he got trapped in any bottle he would be helpless, which is why he was scared of bottles. He needs to trust  Katherine to put him in the ships spare phial and lock it into the correct position to re-power the ship. Katherine does this and he flies away, thanking her. A rescue helicopter arrives soon after that.

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Thoughts

The art is great, the balloon really feels threatening, especially in the larger panels when it is given more space. Often the Balloon takes up the majority of the panel, making it look like a very looming threat. Also very effective, is in its original printing, the use of red on the balloon really makes it stand out. Something of note is the reprinted Lucky Charm version is just all black and white and there are some slight changes. Obviously the recap boxes are gone as it is told in one story, but there is also some dialogue missing as well, nothing major, but interesting to note the differences. One example of this is when Katherine is thinking “It’s following us! I knew it was evil. But where is it from?” the next line; “And what is it’s sinister plan?” is left out.

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The first half of the story does great at building up the balloon as a serious threat. Even Katherine’s dreams about a genie are quite creepy. In her dream she tries to make a wish and the genie tells her he can’t grant any good wishes as he is an evil genie. Parallel to this Sarah has the Balloon grant her wishes but these involve stealing and hurting dogs! The Balloon continues to look sinister and cause destruction.  So after all that has happened in the first part of the story, it’s a bit jarring to have him turn into a misunderstood character that we are supposed to feel sorry for. When he attacks a helicopter with Katherine in it, his expression looking down on the wreckage is clearly him looking pleased. The pilot dies in this crash, so basically by the end of the story we are meant to sympathise with a killer!

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All his actions are supposed to be explained away, as being in conflict with earth’s element makes him destructive. But this again doesn’t explain Sarah’s actions.  If a human grounds him, then why was she acting so malicious? Either Sarah was too young to ground him and was being influenced by his (unintentional) destructive nature or else she is just a brat on her own! There is no resolution for this plot point, as suddenly Sarah gets a tummy ache and is never seen again.

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Some other plot issues, is the Balloon/alien’s unwillingness to communicate at first, with the vague reasoning that words are destructive, when he’s been going around destroying houses and killing people. Also towards the end, the Balloon takes the plane with the Prime Minister which really seems unnecessary. The only thing it contributes to the story, is that the rescue helicopter at the end finds Katherine and the others after seeing the plane on the mountain. I’m sure there was another way around getting Katherine and Nita rescued.

It’s some of those plot points that makes me think that initially the story was going in a different direction and the writer/editor decided to change it partway through for some reason. I do find it amusing that such an ominous looking balloon turns out to be a very cute looking alien! I do like a lot of the bizarre elements in this story, the balloon itself, the genie dreams, strange weather and the time the balloon left Katherine in the Sahara desert! The first half of the story is definitely the strongest part but it is still a good read and like I said before the art is great throughout.