Category Archives: Spellbound

Vengeance of Vampirene [1977]

  • Vengeance of Vampirene – Spellbound:  #57 (22 October 1977) – #65 (17 December 1977)
  • Art: Adolfo Usero

Plot

Irene is the princess of the small Balkan kingdom, Geldania, which is ruled by her kindly father Prince Stephen. The princess has been attending a boarding school in Switzerland, since her mother’s death. She excels at sports at the school and her classmates are also impressed that her despite her status she is not snobby. This life is to become disrupted, when her uncle, Count Zukor, decides to overthrow Stephen. He plans to capture Irene in order to keep his brother quiet, but Irene escapes, she makes her way home and seeks out her old nurse, Magda for help. Irene gets into the castle and with a bracelet that maps all the hidden passages, she attempts to find her father. Unfortunately she makes a noise that attracts the attention of Zukor’s men. It is then Irene first dons the appearance of a Vampire, playing up the superstitions of the country. She has to make a leap from the tower into the water below, but luckily escapes and this gives her the idea to continue to use the myths of vampires to help her father.

She prepares a new plan to get to her father. First Magda and other loyalists use a kite, shaped like a large bat, to distract the guards. It works and Irene in her vampire costume, manages to get into the castle and through the passageways to her father. He asks her to get a message to one of his supporters, Anton Tesla. Later Irene is at her hideout in the Vampire Tower, a place where no people like to venture as they are scared and superstitious. She has a problem leaving as there are still guards nearby. She initially planned to get to Tesla in her peasant disguise, but now will have to become Vampirene again. She distracts the sentries by hitting their coffee pot into the fire. Then with the fire out and in her costume she makes her way past them as a shadowy vampire shape. Using her mountaineering skills she climbs a sheer mountain to avoid Zukor’s soldiers. She reaches the loyalists and tells Anton Tesla that he must lead an uprising.

That night as snow falls, they find out an armed convey is on the way. A plan is formed to seize the guns. Vampirene sets off on skis, doing a jump over the convey. But it seems her plan is failing as they are not stopping. She makes a second appearance giving the men an opportunity to shoot at her, she’s cleverly fixed her cloak up and stayed hidden so she is in no danger of getting shot. This gives the others a chance to ambush the trucks. Anton is relieved to see Vampirene ski away.

Irene returns to Magda and while playing the part of her niece in the village, she sees a dog attacks a young soldier. Despite being an enemy Irene helps him. That night they fly the bat kite high, while Irene skates across the now frozen lake. Count Zukor has his suspicions about the legendary Vampire and decides he can use his prisoner as bait. Irene arrives at the castle but is surprised to find her father has been moved. When she is searching for him, she comes across a guard, luckily for her it is the same one she helped earlier. He says he will help her, and they use secret passages to get to her father. They manage to free her father and they stay hidden in tunnels  when alarm is raised. She then sends her father on to the rebels but she stays on to spy on her uncle.

Nikki, the guard, makes his way back to the others, but as he can’t account for his whereabouts at the time Stephen was freed, he is captured. They will torture him for information unless Irene can free him. She creates a diversion with a fire, unlocks the door and they escape into secret passage. Zukor is enraged and thinks there must be a secret way into the castle. Irene and Nikki are laying low in the passages, but Zukor is intent on searching every inch of castle until he finds the passages and they are forced to flee. They make it to the Vampire Tower, where they think they will be safe, but Zukor insists it be searched despite guards reluctance, he has no time for superstitions. Irene releases her cape from the top of the tower as a distraction. They get to Zukor’s snowmobile and escape towards the loyalists. They don’t make it all the way as the vehicle runs out of petrol, and they are forced to take refuge in a cave. Zukor wants them alive, so he can find out Prince Stephen’s whereabouts. One of the guards foolishly lets off a warning shot, causing an avalanche. While Irene and Nikki are safe in the cave, it ends up being a great way for loyalists to capture Zukor’s men, and then they rescue Irene and Nikki. Prince Stephen declares this day of victory will always be a public holiday and Vampirene can be put to rest.

Thoughts

Keeping with the Halloween spirit, I thought this would be a fitting story to look at. While the protagonist is not actually a Vampire, just  playing on superstition, it is something that is more rare to see in these comics. The preferred supernatural beings were witches and ghosts, there are a few stories with vampires and some references may have been made to them (such as Nightmare Academy, Worlds Apart and Dracula’s Daughter) but it was less common. I really like Irene’s vampire costume, it goes for a classical Dracula look but also plays off the bat elements. She uses a second version  of the costume, which is more of a bodysuit which is more practical for what she has to do physically. I quite like that she has two versions, the one that plays on the myths and she takes off a layer and has the bodysuit which gives her a more bat-like appearance and more maneuverability. This story also has one of my favourite covers, done by Norman Lee,  the grey/purple and green used for Vampirene, and her posture makes her an imposing figure.  The cover immediately captures attention. This is also one of my favourite story titles, the alliteration, the merging of Irene’s name with Vampire, the foreboding threat of vengeance!

The art by Usero is great too, as well as Irene’s costumes I like Count Zukor being made distinct with his facial scars. He also handles the action scenes well. They do well at establishing Princess Irene as a top sportsperson, taking a little time at her boarding school, before jumping into the main plot. The change in weather also makes sure she can show off her varied skills (such as her swimming and diving, then when the lake freezes over she can show  off her skating). She could stand proudly beside other costumed heroes like the Cat from Catch the Cat or Bike Rider. She is clever, brave and resourceful and has some uncommon skills such as marksmanship and judo as well as being achieved in a lot of winter sports. Although there are times when it seems obvious that she is not supernatural (I do wonder how the guards don’t see her skis when she jumps!), it is interesting how she plays on the people’s fears and superstitions, to keep them at bay. It is also nicely played that she acts as a distraction while the loyalists can take advantage of that. There are some coincidences, like that she happens to help Nikki, the one nice guard, who in turn is the one who finds her in the castle. But the story is still exciting and appealing and one of Spellbound’s best. Which again highlights that it is a pity that Spellbound didn’t last longer, as it was printing some interesting and different stories.

 

 

The Strange Ones [1964]

  • The Strange Ones – Diana: #61 (18 April 1964) – #72 (04 July 1964)
  • Reprinted – Spellbound: #23 (26 February 1977) – #34 (14 May 1977)

Plot

The Harleminster Ballet School is located in a quiet, rural area of England and everything is peaceful until the sudden arrival of three mysterious girls. The girls surprise the headmistress by already being in school uniform, the school does happen to have three vacancies but it is a most unusual way of joining. Another surprise is, despite the looking identical, they say they are not related and introduce themselves as Jean Smith, Mary Jones and Ann Brown. The headmistress takes them to meet the other girls in their class. On questioning it seems they never danced before and say they wouldn’t know their previous school. The other girls find them weird and creepy. Ursula is to take them to their dorm and it is there the girls first show their unusual powers. Mary starts having fun with a plant, it suddenly grows and attacks Ursula.

Luckily she is stopped by the arrival of the headmistress and other girls. But when the headmistress confronts them, she is stopped in the middle of her speech and then collapses to the floor.  The Strange Ones have used their powers to make her blind. It is clear now that they are dangerous people. They will not say what they want with the school, but they can undo what they have done if they wish, but no one must attempt escape or try to contact anyone. The school is the carry on as normal per the Strange Ones commands and the girls despite no ballet experience make remarkable progress. The other girls in the school are naturally terrified of them. While talking with a teacher, Miss Lennox, they make a plan to contact the police, unfortunately not knowing that telepathy is another of the Strange Ones powers.

Miss Lennox tries to leave and contact the polices but the Strange Ones attack her with a plant. It completely envelops her and when the leaves fall away she looks like one of the Strange Ones. According to the Strange Ones is just in appearance and the unconscious Miss Lennox is taken to bed. The girls in the dance class are upset by these events, but they must continue to follow the Strange Ones demands that the class must go on. One girl wonders why ballet is so important to them. Later the Strange Ones are shown around the grounds. They come to a churchyard where famous ballerina Juliana Tanfield is buried there, using their powers again an apparition of Juliana appears and dances.

The Strange Ones are not pleased to see an arrival (a delivery man)  at the school, but they turn it to their advantage. They give the man super strength and command him to guard the school. Of course when the delivery man doesn’t return this attracts the attention of the police. When they come to the school to investigate, they are chased away by the man and they go to get reinforcements. The Strange Ones are confident in their powers, so they are not worried about this.  When the army arrive the Strange Ones have set rods around the school which the army cannot pass. Meanwhile the girls have come up with a plan, after talking to the Strange Ones partially in Latin, they discover dead languages mean nothing to them, therefore they can use it to shield their thoughts. But the Strange Ones won’t be defeated so easily, they force one of the girls, Maria Blake, to tell them what language they are using. They also allow Maria to escape as the figure they can use her to set a trap.

Four other girls have used an old tunnel to try and contact the army, not knowing that the Strange Ones have now learned Latin and are aware of their movements. When they emerge from the tunnels, they are shocked to find they look like The Strange Ones. The army are about to arrest them, despite their protests, until Maria Blake sticks up for them as there are four of  them they must be telling the truth. Unfortunately, once the army have let down their guard the Strange Ones take over the girls, making them attack. Then leaving the army unconscious they head for the town, to also attack them.

Maria  seeing everything, follows the girls into the town where they wreck havoc. She notices that the girls stick together and following that hunch, she manages to separate one from the others and all four collapse. She then goes back to the school with this knowledge. While dancing, Maria partners with a Strange One, while repeating a multiplication table in her head she maneuvers the girl out the door and locks her out. She tells the others to grab the other Strange Ones and with them now powerless they demand an explanation.Having no other choice they tell the class they come from the planet Talmar which is at war with another planet, Kotil over possession of a third planet, Gald. The opposing planets had agreed to fight a “war in the arts” the winner getting Gald. The Strange Ones had been sent to learn ballet for this war.  They agree to reverse what they have done and leave peacefully once the three are together again. They keep their promise but leave with the ominous words “someday our planet may need earth – then we will return”.

Thoughts

This is possibly influenced by the 1957 novel “The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham. It’s popular film adaption “Village of the Damned” came out just a few years prior to this story and I can see some similarities. Both take place in an isolated British town, feature strange children, who look alike with their platinum blonde hair and have incredible mental powers and an unknown agenda. The Cuckoos/Strange Ones, always stay in a group, act in a very cold, matter of fact way showing little emotion and unnerve those around them.  It is not the only time The Midwich Cuckoos would influence a comic book, in Grant Morrison’s X-Men run he introduced “The Stepford Cuckoos” a group of five telepathic girls. Perhaps, Morrison was even familiar with “The Strange Ones”.

      (Village of the Damned – Image Source)                    (Stepford Cuckoos in New X-Men #137)

Although the story had 12 episodes it is actually quite short as there was only 1 page per episode. As the events are meant to take place over a short period of time this works to it’s advantage. Things move along quickly, after the first episode the Strange Ones pretense of being “normal” students is dropped. Once they reveal their powers, they are not referred to by their “names” just as the Strange Ones. While we see reactions of the schoolgirls and them trying to come up with plans, there isn’t really a protagonist against the girls until Maria, who isn’t named until over half ways through the story. This works fine as it keeps the focus on the Strange Ones. There is great imagery throughout, capturing the eeriness and formidable powers of the girls.  There is also good use of colour such as the yellow in the panel below, I particularly like the panels where the girls use their powers from a distance. I only have the Spellbound version but I would guess the original in Diana would have been even more impressive with it’s glossy paper. It is understandable why the school girls find them creepy and are frightened.

 

The ending leaves a lot of questions, I am curious about these warring planets and is the prize, Gald, an occupied planet that they will overthrow?  I would also like to see how this “war of the arts” went, who won, wheter the winning planet would want to expand the number of planets they own and is Earth in danger? Especially with the Strange Ones parting words, which could be seen as a warning or possibly they may need help against a bigger threat! The Strange Ones are true to their word reversing what they have done so maybe Kotil is that bigger threat! I think the mysterious ending  works in keeping in tone with story.

 

Damian Darke

  • Damian Darke– Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #68 (07 Jan. 1978) [not in every issue]
  • Damian Darke– Debbie: #258 (21 Jan. 1978) –  (?)
  • Damian Darke– Mandy: #841 (26 Feb. 1983) – (?)
  • Edited reprints as Midnight Mystery – Nikki: #165 (16 April 1988) – #220 (6 May 1989)
  • Artists: Various

Plot

damian darkeDamian Darke is a storyteller of  strange and spooky stories. We don’t get  background on where he came from or how he knows such stories, but they seem to be documented in a large book that he keeps with him. He has a very distinctive look, dressed in old fashioned clothes and always accompanied by a raven. While Damian Darke introduces each story and usually had a closing statement about it, each story had it’s own individual title. The  stories were varied from cursed objects, ghost stories, timeslips and other strange occurrences. A List of stories  can be found  here.

I’m going to discuss ten of my own favourite Damian Darke stories here (listed alphabetically rather than a particular ranking).

1.  A Spoonful of Evil…. [Spellbound: #43] 

Carol loves going to auctions, one of her latest purchases is some old cutlery and her flatmate Sue chides for buying such junk. The next day, Carol and Sue are enjoying soup together when suddenly Sue takes ill. It seems to be some sort of food poisoning but Carol has not been effected. Once Sue has recovered she brushes it off as a bug and even is happy to try some soup again, but then Carol falls ill. The doctor is called again, and surprises the girls by asking if he can bring back a friend of his, an expert on local history. The girls can’t see how that could help but agree. The historian asks to exam their cutlery, his suspicions are confirmed when he finds a spoon with the devil’s head stamped on it.

spoonful-of-evil He then tells Sue the story of a Silversmith who claimed to have seen the devil and made a bargain with him, 12 innocent souls in exchange for his. He made a dozen spoons with the devil head mark and into the silver he mixed a deadly poison so that if the spoons were used twice, it was fatal. After 12 people had died from the poisoning he tried to recover the spoons but only found three. Now that the fourth has been found, Damian Darke ends with a warning that eight of the deadly spoons are still out there and asks the reader have they examined the spoons in their kitchen recently…

I like this story, the girls are lucky to have shared the spoon, although one could say they were unlucky to find it in the first place! It is one of those stories where it is not a person that needs a learn a lesson, but an unfortunate happenstance, which is scarier in a way! I like also in the story of the silversmith, it is left vague to whether he did actually see the Devil – the doctor in telling the story says he “imagined” seeing him. We don’t know whether there was some supernatural instance, and what the Silversmith may have done originally to get the attention of the devil, although it seems he was certainly capable of murder. It could have easily have been just a delusion by the man, with deadly consequences.  That we are still left wondering where the other eight spoons are, is also a troubling and compelling ending. (Although in a Nikki reprint they make it the twelfth spoon, taking away some of the fear)

2. Another Pair of Hands…  [Spellbound: #54]

Abigail Barton and her Aunt Ruth move to a remote cottage which was a long walk to the nearby village. Still they are happy with the cottage, but for some reason they are unable to find a housemaid willing to work at the cottage. When Ruth falls sick, it is up to Abigail to keep things running as she doesn’t want to worry her aunt. The work is taking it’s toll on Abigail though and exhausted she falls asleep in the kitchen. She is woken surprised by a young woman, who introduces herself as Biddy Breen and is there to offer her services. Abigail is delighted by the work Biddy does although she is puzzled by why she is always gone in the morning before she gets up.

When the doctor comes to visit Ruth he is happy to see her recovered and rested. Abigail tells him they have got help from a girl Biddy Breen, which shocks him. He tells them Biddy Breen used to work in the cottage but one dark night wandered off the road and was drowned. Finding out the place is haunted, Ruth immediatly wants to pack up and leave, but Abigail persuades her to stay , she tells her Biddy has been a good friend to them and she believes she can get her to leave. That night she stays up until Biddy appears, she thanks her for her help but tells her she can rest now.  Damian tells us Biddy’s  ghost was never seen again and in time the village people stopped fearing the cottage and the Barton’s lived there happily.

another-pair-of-hands

Not all the stories had to have some evil presence, here Biddy is not a ghost to be feared as she is kind spirit who wants to help. Although people still fear the unknown, the village people don’t want to come near the cottage because of the rumors of it being haunted and even Aunt Ruth knowing the help Biddy has given her first instinct is still to run away. It is only Abigail that acknowledges that Biddy has been a friend to them and she also returns the favor by releasing Biddy so she can rest in peace.

3. Behind the Green Door  [Spellbound:  #15]

In 1850, siblings Grace and John were sent out to sell matchboxes every day by their brutish stepfather, who kept all the money they made for himself. In extra money they do make Grace makes sure to hide it away so they can save up to run away from their stepfather. One day when they are out, John can’t resist taking a look behind  a green door that’s ajar. It opens up to a beautiful garden, even more surprising several well dressed people welcome them to join them for tea. They also seem to know their names and give the children money as they leave and invite them back the next day.

Their stepfather, Sykes, is suspicious of what they have been up to as they seem happy, so he follows them the next day. He catches them at the green door and shoves them aside to enter. He is in for a shock though, as unlike the children he doesn’t come across a garden instead he finds himself in the path of a carriage. Grace and John have no means to follow him as the Green door disappeared as Sykes went through. When they go home, they find out that Sykes was killed after he stepped out in front of a runaway dray horse. They are puzzled and they never find the green door again but they live a happier life with Sykes gone.

green-door

There’s some lovely artwork here (it’s the same artist as recent post Little Dolly Demon). When Grace and John find the garden it is quite exquisite with fountains and peacocks. There is a nice contrast of what the people see as they go through the door, and certainly Sykes, terrified look as the carriage come from the fog is very effective. The mysterious door is not explained but it does seem to judge those that go through it – Grace and John are rewarded, while Sykes meets only death.

4. Day of Vengeance  [Spellbound:  #17]

Many years ago, Old Hannah a clothes cleaner, was an irritable and sharp-tongued woman, only one girl; Margot, befriended her. One day while washing clothes, Old Hannah staring into the water suddenly told Margot to run to the men working in the filed near the mountains and to warn them to run as they were in danger. At first the men don’t listen to Margot but when Old Hannah appears something in her voice makes them listen. They are saved before the a giant rockfall comes crashing down. One man Herr Bauer takes special interest in Old Hannah’s premonition an visits her trying to persuade her that working together they could make a profit with her talents. Hannah tells home she rarely gets visions and only talks of them if there is danger and she has no interest in his greed.

Herr Bauer doesn’t take this well, he soon turns the village against Hannah, saying that having a witch in their midst is the cause of disasters such as crops failing. The villagers riled up and went to attack Hannah and burn her cottage down. Despite Margot’s efforts to save her Hannah is stoned and left on the mountain to die. Even then the villagers aren’t sated, seeing how upset Margot is, they begin to question if she was too close to the witch and should be banished. The elders decide to meet to discuss the matter. That night Margot is surprised to hear Hannah out beating clothes, she rushes to see her but then realises she is a ghost, beating 12 bloody clothes and singing a terrifying song. At the elder’s meeting a few days later, the building collapses killing the 12 men, so Old Hannah has her revenge and protects Margot.

day-of-vengeance

The greed of one man who was quite willing to use Hannah’s supernatural powers for his own means, quickly turns to a righteousness when he is rejected. That he is able to turn the villagers against a woman who saved their lives, shows who quickly fear and superstition can be aroused particularly in the time period the story it is set. Bad enough the fate of Old Hannah but that they then turn their attentions to Margot for trying to help Hannah is unforgivable. Which Old Hannah obviously thinks too and the very creepy image of her beating the clothes, lets us know that she should never have been crossed.

5. Horror in Haunted Woods  [Debbie: #324]

Sue, Karen and Christy are doing a school project about  local legends and get help from knowledgeable Mrs Rivett. She tells them the legend of how the local wood got the name Dog Wood. In the 17th century, the ashes of a witch who’d been burned at the stake were buried under the tallest tree in the wood along with ashes of her two pet dogs. People believed if anyone was to touch the Witch’s Firtree, the Dog-People, half men and half beasts,would rise from their graves to destroy them. On the way home Karen and Christy make Sue touch the tree. She is not worried, she believes what Mrs Rivett told her superstitious people got hurt because they frightened themselves so much.
horror-in-haunted-woods

A few nights later Sue sees dogs at the window, she tries to  to shoo them but then sees they only have the head of a dog, she is terrified that the dog-people have come to destroy her. Her parents don’t believe her telling it was a dream. But the next day cycling home she sees them again she falls from her bike and is chased, she ends up at the Witch Fir where she sees a figure beneath the tree. Sue thinks her days are numbered and that it is the witch returned, but then it is revealed to be Mrs Rivett. She calls out to the dog people telling them they should be ashamed of scaring the girl, it is then revealed that it is Karen and Christy in masks. They only meant it as a joke, but Mrs Rivett harshly reprimands them. She helps Sue back to her bike and she reassures her, that she needn’t worry about old wive’s tales and if there were such things as ghosts, she believes they would just be ordinary people who would come back to help anyone in trouble. Sue is comforted by this, she tells her parents when she gets home, but they inform her it couldn’t have been Mrs Rivett that helped her as she died from a heart-attack that morning!

horror-in-haunted-woods-2

There is some very frightening imagery with the dog people, even though it turns out to be a prank, it’s easy to see how Sue could be so terrified. Mrs Rivett helping her and telling her that maybe ghost just come back to help people is a bittersweet ending as clearly Sue had great admiration for the woman is upset by her death, very well captured with her expression and the tear in the last panel.

6. Mystery at Howlen Hall  [Spellbound:  #21]

Prudence Vane goes to visit her cousin Marella who had wrote to invite her to spooky house she had bought. Marella a flighty young lady was quite excited at the prospect of a ghost hunt. When Prudence arrives at Howlen Hall, she is told Marella has gone travelling and the housekeeper Dorcas does not seem keen for her to stay. When Prudence mentions the ghost, Dorcas seems surprised, then denies that there is a ghost and says Marella was just having a joke. That night Prudence is woken from her sleep by a moaning noise. She goes to investigate, she finds what appears to be Marella’s room and sees all her jewels are there, she begins to worry something is terribly wrong  as Marella wouldn’t travel without her jewels.

mystery-at-howlen-hall

Prudence investigates the house further and is startled by the sudden appearance of an old white haired woman. Dorcas arrives and tells her the woman is just  an old family dependent and Prudence should go back to bed. Prudence is not happy with whatever is going on, Dorcas swears Marcella is safe and gives her word that the truth will be revealed the next day. The following morning, Prudence confronts Dorcas and asks her if the old woman was a ghost. She was no instead she is revealed to be Marcella. It seems that one night Marcella decided she wanted to raise the ghost of Howlen Hall, when the servants returned they found her looking like an old woman and her mind gone. Being so wealthy Dorcas wanted to make sure Prudence was a real friend before revealing the truth. Damian Darke ends telling us Marella never recovered and serves as a warning to those who would delve into unknown forces.

I like the mystery of this story, the twist at the end was unexpected and although we never see how Marcella came to be the way she is, the warning is clear!

7.  Mystery on the Moors  [Debbie #258]

Sally and Pat were spending time hiking in the Yorkshire moors. On their way back to town, they decide to wait for the last bus so they get back before dark. While their waiting, Pat runs down to the nearby stream to freshen up, meanwhile a hearse pulls up to the bus stop and the driver offers her a lift. Sally goes to fetch Pat, but he is gone by the time they get back, Pat thinks he must have got tired of waiting. Soon the bus comes along and Pat is shocked the driver is the same as the man she saw before. She shoves Sally off the bus and tells him they were mistaken they don’t want that bus. Sally is mad at her telling her she has taken the joke  too far. They set off walking towards town, Sally grumbling along the way when they are passed by police cars and ambulances. They come across the scene of the accident, it seems the bus’s brakes failed coming down the hill. The girls had a lucky escape due to the unusual warning!

mystery-on-moors

8. Swamp of Evil  [Spellbound:  #7]

Wicked  money-lender Jethro Stern, is delighted to get an invitation to Lady Gladwell’s house. Having heard rumors of her falling on hard times since her her husbands death, he plots to get her house. While dining with Lady Gladwell he also mentally makes inventory of the fine things around him, one painting draws his eye – in it three men drown in a swamp, it makes Jethro’s blood run cold. He tries to concentrate on Lady Gladwell’s conversation as she asks about a possibility of a loan. Noticing his interest in the painting, she invites him to look at the rest of her collection of paintings. He brings him to a room of many strange paintings of Jethro’s victims such as Sammy who was crippled and couldn’t work and Mrs Watson who died in a workhouse.

swamp-of-evil

Jethro is disturbed by the paintings and Lady Gladwell tells him she is not having money problems but brought him here to ask him to release his hold on the poor town folk and leave forever. But Jethro will not tear up his arrangements, she tells him it’s a pity he has made that choice and leads him to the door. Jethro is eager to get away from Gladwell, but he soon finds himself lost in a fog and slowly realizes he seems to be in the Swamp of Evil painting. The next day a servant Mary is cleaning when she notices that the painting now has four figures one of which looks suspiciously like Jethro Stern.

Again the art is very well done here capturing the creepy atmosphere. Jethro Stern certainly seems to be deserving of his punishment. He also gets more of a chance at mercy than others, but he rejects his chance of redemption.

9. The Cavalier’s Cloak  [Spellbound: #37]

Judy and her family were spending Christmas at an old Quaker Cottage. While exploring Judy finds a portrait, with a man wearing a cavalier cloak which is surprising since they are in a Roundhead area. That night Judy is woken by knocking at the door and someone asking to be let in. She goes out to investigate but can’t see anyone, the door slams behind her and she is left out in the cold. An old man approaches her and offers his cloak to shield her from the cold.  She asks if it was him calling out, he says no but tells her a story of the family that lived in the house.

One evening Prudence and her father hear knocking at the door, they find what they think is a royalist, Prudence wants to help but her father does not. Then it turns out to be his son John who had gone fighting for Cromwell, his father is even more repelled at the thought of his son being a turncoat and shuts the door on him without listening to explanation. Prudence can’t sleep listening to John’s continued feeble knocking. She goes out to John, he explains that  a young Royalist soldier fatally wounded gave him the cloak to protect him from the cold. Prudence says she knew he wasn’t a traitor but when they go to return to the house the door has locked behind them. They knock at the door but their father remains stubborn, ignoring the knocking thinking John must learn the error of his ways. He is horrified the next morning to find both his children dead from the cold.

cloak

The man tells Judy that since that night the cottage has been haunted, he reveals himself to be Issac Bunyan the father (and man from the painting) and he has worn the cavalier’s cloak everyday since as penance for his cruelty. He then disappears as Judy’s father comes to the door wondering what Judy is doing outside wearing a tattered rug.

10. Whisper, Whisper… [Spellbound:  #11]

In 1931, Marcia Walton finds a charming cottage for sale cheaply  due to it’s dreadful history. Marcia is not superstitious and is happy to buy it. She starts redecorating and when she finds a mirror in the attic she cleans it up and hangs it above the fireplace. A few weeks a young squire, Mr Martin, is worried when no-one has seen Marcia in some time. He investigates and finds her on the floor thin and drawn and muttering about voices. It turns out the mirror was made by a poor craftsman for a wicked duke who killed him rather than pay him a fair price. Since then the owners of the mirror had been tormented by endless hateful whispering. Not only that but whoever destroy the mirror will never be free of the curse. Marcia also notes it would be evil to give the mirror to anyone else but Mr Martin thinks he has a solution.

Marcia is upset when she sees Mr Martin give the mirror to an old woman, she tries to take it back as she’d rather live with the curse than let a sweet old woman suffer. But then the woman stops her and asks her to write an explanation as she is completely deaf. Then Marcia understands the squire wasn’t being cruel it is in fact the perfect solution as the old woman would never hear the whispers. Damian Darke does muse that it happened many years ago and the mirror must be out there somewhere maybe in an attic waiting to be found.

whisper-whisper

It’s interesting that the cursed object can’t be gotten rid of. Most stories with cursed objects involved some way to break the curse or at least destroying the object would end it. How they solve this problem is a very clever and unexpected.

Final Thoughts

Continuing with the eerie stories for the Halloween season, Damian Darke certainly delivers on the spooky, dark and twisting stories. As discussed before the spooky storyteller was certainly common used to tell short stories. Damian Darke is particularly similar to Diana‘s The Man in Black, which isn’t surprising as Spellbound seemed to be influenced a lot by that comic. Damian Darke proved to be popular enough to survive two mergers, first with Debbie then with Mandy (although the Mandy stories seem to be mostly repeats). Some stories were also reprinted in Nikki, but Damian Darke was edited out and they came under the name Midnight Mystery. Damian Darke also appeared in several Debbie Picture Story Library books. It’s easy to see why it lasted Storytellers were quite a favored story device and the series produced many engaging stories as well as having some terrific artwork.

 

The Shop at Shudder Corner (1983)

Shudder Corner cover

Debbie Picture Library: #64

Published: 1983

Artist: Norman Lee

Plot

Jean Marsh and Sheila Hawkins are best friends. Sheila’s uncle runs an antique shop at Shudder Corner, and they earn extra pocket money from cleaning the antiques.

Shudder Corner 2

One day Sheila loses a lens from her torch in the shop and quickly finds a replacement on the floor. She does not realise the lens has a strange, mystical design.

Edited to add: the origin of the lens is slightly different from the original. In the original version, the girls found the lens beside a lightning-struck bush.

But the girls soon find that the lens turns the torch into a time travel device. Whenever it shines on an object that has a strange history attached to it (and in an antique shop, they are surrounded by such objects), the torch transports them to that moment in the past, where they become part of that particular chain of events. They have to stay for the duration, because the torch will not allow them to return – by being switched on again – until the adventure runs its course. Afterwards, Jean’s uncle (who is unaware of the time travel adventures) provides them with context on the object and their adventure.

Shudder Corner 6

Jean is always telling Sheila not to use the torch in the shop in case it shines on something with a history. But of course Sheila always ends up turning the torch on for some reason or other. And then they are off again…

In this story, the girls go on three time travel trips with the torch:

Trip 1: The Danson dog collar

In the 19th century, Sheila and Jean meet Bettina Danson. She is running away because her guardian, Sir Charles Danson, is out to kill her and claim her inheritance. There is a legend in the Danson family about a demon dog known as the Hound of the Dansons. Sir Charles capitalises on the legend to unleash a vicious dog (who is wearing the collar) on Bettina as a fake ghost dog to kill her. The dog and Sir Charles trap Bettina and the girls at the edge of a quarry, but then they find a ledge and start climbing down it. Sheila blinds the dog with the torch, and it gets such a fright that it knocks Sir Charles over and he falls to his death in the quarry.

Shudder Corner 3

Back in the present, Uncle tells the girls that the dog collar belonged to the Danson family. There is some tale about a ghost hound and a wicked guardian who was out to inherit a fortune by killing the rightful heir. But “something went wrong” and he “came to a sticky end”. The girls know what went wrong but can’t tell him.

Trip 2: The rose goblet

Sheila shines the torch on a crystal goblet with a rose motif. They are transported to an 18th century manor called Rose Manor, and roses are everywhere: the garden, the hedges, and even the stonework. But then an unpleasant servant takes them for gypsies and seizes them. The master, Squire Allwood, is just as surly and thinks they are gypsy kids who belong to “Mad Meg”. He is about to lock them in the cellar and send for the magistrate when Mad Meg shows up. The squire had driven the gypsies off and Mad Meg takes revenge by cursing Rose Manor with – roses. Immediately the roses start growing and spreading at terrifying rates that threaten to overwhelm the manor. People start fleeing, but Sheila and Jean are trapped in the manor with the roses threatening to smother them. They escape via a secret passage, but outside the nasty squire is about to recapture them. However, the torch comes back on and they return to the present.

Shudder Corner 4

Uncle tells them the goblet came from an 18th century manor that became overwhelmed with roses; it was the gypsies’ revenge when the squire upset them. Ironically, the site where the manor once stood is now part of a famous rose nursery.

Trip 3: The horse brass

Sheila and Jean are working in the antique shop while pondering over a challenging homework assignment on chimney sweep boys. Jean’s notes go under a chest of drawers, and when Sheila pulls out the torch for them, the light shines on an old horse brass that got lost there.

Shudder Corner 5

The girls arrive at a canal at a time when horses pulled narrow boats. The women of the narrow boat are cordial and offer them some food. The girls offer to sell some pegs in return, and the women suggest the big houses. On the way they encounter a climbing boy and his cruel master. The girls overhear the sweep telling the boy to help him and a man named Hobbs steal from the big house, or else. The girls report back to the women, who say the crooks are taking advantage of the boy being small and nimble to break into the house. They hatch a plan to foil them.

So, when the crooks head to the house that night, the girls distract them, rescue the boy and bring him to the narrow boat. But then the crooks seize the girls and force them to help with the robbery in the boy’s place. The girls strike back by throwing the bags of loot downstairs to knock the crooks down, but it rouses the household. The crooks are captured, and claim the girls are their accomplices. The girls are climbing their way down the wall, but the owner sees them and says the magistrate will decide their fate. Fortunately the torch comes back on and everyone below is stunned to see them just disappear.

Back in the present, Uncle is very pleased that the girls have found his missing horse brass, and they will be rewarded. He tells them it comes from a narrow boat, whose master used to be a climbing boy. “By some miracle he bettered himself” and became “quite famous”. The girls realise that the climbing boy stayed with the narrow boat women and “made good”. And their encounter with a real climbing boy helps their homework assignment so much that the teacher is impressed with the end result.

Thoughts

“The Shop at Shudder Corner” was originally a serial in Spellbound. When Spellbound merged with Debbie, Shudder Corner only lasted a few episodes, which is a bit surprising. However, Shudder Corner later resurfaced in the Debbie Picture Libraries and also scored an appearance in the 1984 Debbie annual.

The picture library completely restarts Shudder Corner at the beginning. The origin of the time travel torch is shown to the reader, rather than its powers being briefly explained with a text box before girls plunge into their latest adventure. This is an excellent move that quickly brings readers up to speed with the concept, and those who are not familiar with the original can just enjoy the time travel adventures in the picture library without even knowing its Spellbound origins. The altered origin is also more effective than the original, because it is much simpler, straightforward, and tying the lens directly with the shop makes more sense.

Shudder Corner 1

Storytelling about objects is not new. M&J’s “Jade Jenkins’ Stall” and “The Button Box” from Tammy both starred narrators who would tell the stories behind various objects, such as the items on Jade’s stall or the buttons in Bev’s box. But instead of narration, we see the story itself as the protagonists not only relive it but also become part of it, shaping the events themselves and the history of the object. This approach turns the concept into an adventure strip that makes it even more exciting. It also avoids the moralising and condescending tones that can permeate the narrative versions of “objects with a history” stories.

Time travelling to the moment in an object’s past is not a new concept. For example, Debbie had “Polly’s Patches”. Polly time travels to a period in the past in accordance with whichever patch she rubs on her trousers, which comes from that period. But while Polly is more of a lightweight story aimed at fun, Shudder Corner is a darker take on the concept, beginning with the shop itself. Its Tudor architecture makes it look creepy with the right atmosphere, and the name of the corner it stands on – Shudder Corner – makes it even more spine chilling.

Shudder Corner 7

When you enter the shop, a lot of those objects – such as a stuffed raven in a cage or a necklace in a goblet – can make the ambiance even creepier, especially when you enter the shop while it is dark. This is not surprising for a story that began in Spellbound, and it also gives Shudder Corner a bit more of an edge as a time travel story. The artwork of Norman Lee also lends itself brilliantly to the spooky vibes and the period settings the girls end up in. Lee has long experience in drawing both supernatural and period stories, so he is a sensible choice to draw Shudder Corner.

The girls always end up in trouble and even risk their lives in whatever period they land in. The torch always rescues them when it’s time to go home – but not before then. Until then, they are in constant danger while they relive the history of the object. It is a shame that Shudder Corner was not carried much further in Debbie.

 

 

When the Mummy Walks…

  • When the Mummy Walks… – Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #10 (27 Nov. 1976)
  • Art: Norman Lee

Plot

In Victorian London, Jenny Hunt gets a job as an assistant curator at Granville Museum. Miss Brisson her employer, makes it clear  to Jenny that she is not happy that she was obliged to hire someone. She also lets her know that the Ancient Egyptian exhibit is under her supervision only. Luckily the other employees are friendlier such as Bob Clark, the odd job boy, and the people in her lodge who admire her ring, she got from her father, from Egypt. While walking through the Egyptian section, Jenny and Bob find the Mummy case is opened, Miss Brisson accuses them of opening it. She tells them the Mummy is the Golden Priestess of Manaton and is not to be messed with.  Later from her room Jenny sees a light on in the museum, she goes to investigate and is horrified to see the Mummy walking about.

when the mummy walks 1

She tells the porter, Mr Pitt,  who doesn’t believe her. She goes back to investigate herself, and sees the Mummy return and Miss Brisson with it, proving that her surprise at the open Mummy case earlier was an act. Jenny does finds an ally in Bob, meanwhile Miss Brisson is keeping a closer eye on Jenny. Jenny and Bob follow the Mummy the next night. The Mummy has hypnotic powers over a police man, who stops Jenny and Bob while the Mummy breaks into a house stealing a box from a safe. They manage to get away from the policeman and see the Mummy leaving the house. Later Jenny investigates finding out the house was Professor Brents, an Egyptologist who led the first party into the tomb of Maraton. Miss Brisson catches Jenny researching this.

when the mummy walks 2

That night they see Miss Brisson bring the Mummy to life with a totem, Miss Brisson knows they are watching though and she orders the Mummy to catch the spies. She has a plan to get the two fired by having the Mummy hypnotize them to steal things. Luckily Jenny’s scarab ring protects her, so she is able to play along and then slip back the stolen jewels later. With her plan backfiring Miss Brisson thinks its time for more drastic actions, ordering the Mummy to arrange an “accident” for Jenny. Jenny continues her investigation and has figured out the next victim is John Cresswell , who was another member of the tomb exploration party.  Unfortunately  they are unable to stop him being attacked and the treasure being stolen. Meanwhile they get trapped in the house.

They manage to escape Jenny heads to graveyard next, knowing this is where Mummy disappeared last time. They see it go down a grave and find lots treasure hidden there. She takes a ruby as proof. Jenny decides to head home for the weekend and get advice from her father. Unknown to her, the Mummy watches her. The Mummy attacks Jenny and Bob’s carriage and if not for Bob’s quick action they would have gone into a quarry.

when the mummy walks 4

They make it to Jenny’s parents but Miss Brisson has beaten them to it and talks to the Hunts discrediting Jenny. Miss Brisson has also found the ruby that Jenny had, so now knows they have found her hideout. Returning to the museum, Miss Brisson leads Jenny and Bob into a trap at the grave tomb. While Jenny almost  convinces the Mummy not to attack, the Mummy collapses a wall sealing the two into the tomb. They manage to find a way out and coincidentally find the new hiding place for the treasure. They decide to let Miss Brisson think they are dead and lead the police to the treasure, although they don’t tell them about the Mummy as they don’t think they would believe such a story.

Miss Brisson is angry at these turn of event, she decides to do one more big robbery of the police station and get rid of Jenny once and all before leaving town. The first part of her plan goes well for her, as the Mummy hypnotises the police and gets back the treasure, but when she orders the Mummy to attack Jenny, the ring still protects her. Jenny swears by the scarab ring that she is not the enemy and Miss Brisson is going to take the sacred relics for herself. The Mummy turns on Miss Brisson, melting the amulet, destroying Miss Brisson’s power over her, before killing Miss Brisson. The Mummy having got its revenge goes back to its inert state.

when the mummy walks 5

Thoughts

I thought I should have a post that gets in the Halloween spirit.  This was the first story in Spellbound and it s good creepy story with some mystery. Mummys were not the usual supernatural beings of choice for stories in girls comics so that makes it quite fresh. The design of the Mummy makes her both elegant and menacing. Of course the real villain in the story is Miss Brisson, who comes across as quite sinister in her own right, particularly when she towers over Jenny after catching her snooping. There is an eerie atmosphere built up, with shadows, foggy nights and the locations such as the graveyard and the empty museum. There is also some really nice and varied composition throughout.

when the mummy walks 6

It is a pity that the Mummy is just a puppet for Miss Brisson, she is not just seeking revenge on her own, but at least she gets to turn on Miss Brisson in the end (although I’m still not sure how it was capable of such reason).  Since Miss Brisson is the true enemy, a lot of the Egyptian background is under developed, such as what is special about Jenny’s ring that it protects her.  When Jenny goes to her father for help, I hoped to find out more about the ring and interested to know what Mr Hunt’s knowledge of Egyptian tombs and Mummys was. It seems that whole trip was a pointless diversion and adds nothing to plot, except for Miss Brisson showing her deviousness again. At least Jenny doesn’t let the setbacks deter her and she is determined to stop Miss Brisson. It’s a good story with mystery, interesting villain and atmospheres. It is a good introduction for readers to know what to expect from the Spellbound comic.

Dangerous Days for the Tiny Taylors

  • Dangerous Days for the Tiny Taylors – Spellbound #22 (19 Feb. 1977) – #34 (14 May 1977)
  • Artist: Jesus Redondo

Plot

The Taylors consisting of parents, daughters; Jane and Jennie and dog, Mickey are on holidays on the deserted (fictitious) Scottish island named Mulholm. They only just get out of their boat when they are sprayed by water and find themselves shrunk except for Mickey. The family seem to take it in their stride, reasoning they just need to get to the cottage to phone for help. Only Jennie complains and she has already been established as a complainer. The Taylors come to their first problem when they arrive at the cottage and realise that they are way too small to get in. Luckily they are adventurous and resourceful and Jane suggests they try the window. Her father climbs up to the window sill and breaks the glass with a pebble. The rest of the family climb up and they try to phone for help but their voices aren’t loud enough to be heard by the operator.

tiny taylors 1

Jane trips and falls off the table, luckily she is uninjured, but unknown to the family the beady eyes of a mouse is watching. The family join Jane on the floor and are attacked by the mouse. Mr Taylor scares it away, but now the situation is beginning to hit the family and they get weary. They figure that the island was once used for secret experiments and they must find out what cause the shrinking in order to cure it. After some adventures in getting food, they go and explore the island. Micky is still out there normal sized and Jane tries to use him as a horse. They find a a fenced off area. The family get through and find spilled canisters in the water, around these are small birds which prove the contamination is coming from there. They make it to a lab where they are attacked but are saved by a now tiny Mickey. In the lab they look at notes that don’t make sense. Mickey drinks from a puddle and grows back to normal size. The family don’t know which puddle he drank from as two bottles have spilled and dead mouse nearby indicates one is poison. Not being able to risk it  they decide they need to get back to mainland and find scientists for help.

tiny taylors 2

They encounter more problems such as Jeannie getting trapped in a box and Mr Taylor then gets the idea to cut a hole with razor blade to free her. Continuing to be practical they manage to get to the boat and together they are able to steer and direct it. The boat crashes on some rocks but luckily they are unharmed and manage to make it onto the shore. When seagulls attack they are saved by Mickey their protector. They come across some campers but they run away from the tiny “space people”. They figure they can at least shelter in the tent for the night but disaster as gas falls over and Taylors find themselves fleeing from grass fire. Jane falls into a hole and they take the choice to bury down with her, rather than leave her. After a crew comes to clear up the fire, Mickey gets taken in by someone.

They have no more luck in  getting help at the village as a paper boy also thinks they are space invaders. An old lady, Mrs Green, helps them but she thinks they are fairy folk and is expecting them to grant her a wish.  Jeannie spots an old purse that has fallen down the back of a cupboard and gets it for her, in order to play along. They ask her to hide them in a basket and take them to the police station but she brings them to a fairy ring instead.

tiny taylors 3

Eventually the family manage to get to London and hide out in a toy shop and they have a more comfortable night since their adventures begun, by using doll house to sleep and even getting a change of clothes. The woman that owns the shop faints the next morning at the sight of the dolls coming to life, her daughter chases them away. All this running makes them hungry so the Taylors make their way to a supermarket for food. Jane  gets knocked into an empty carton and nearly gets thrown away. The rest of the family manage to  get to the intercom to stop Jane being tossed into rubbish. They finally get the help they needed as the manager gets them to a  specialist, who is able to return them to normal size in a short time. While they recover in hospital they are even reunited with Micky.

tiny taylors 4

Thoughts

Shrinking was a popular plot device, from girls in stories like Pinkie, Tiny Tammy, Four Tasks for Tiny Tessa, Microgirl, and also popular subsection of this was specifically shrinking mothers, The Incredible Adventures of Mini-Mum, Mary’s Mini Mum, and simply called Mini-Mum! It was rare to get whole family shrunk together (it did happen in Microgirl, but it was more focused on the girl going on adventure to save her family, rather than the whole family working together).  Of course this is not just common in comics but in other media it was popular to have tiny people using their wits to get around the normal sized world – like The Borrowers (I know no shrinking involved here, but similar situations arise), Honey I Shrunk the Kids and even most recently Antman. But it is still a fun dynamic to play with. It is interesting to have the whole family working together, and it is fun to see them being inventive with how to cope with their size, which is also well captured by Redondo. It must be enjoyable to play around with size and some interesting angles.

One problem I found was Mr Taylor is very dominant, I would like to have seen the females taking the initiative more. The adventure takes precedence so characters don’t get a whole lot of development. The girls are pretty interchangeable,(also not helped in that they look so alike), at first Jeannie is more likely to complain, Jane more quick with ideas but both girls are likely to find themselves in trouble. Mrs Taylor is protective of her family but really gets very little panel time. It is also a bit strange how well the Taylors take in their new situation, no breakdowns or flipping out.

tiny taylors 5

Other people have a bigger reaction, although it is funny to think how terrified some people get of tiny people. The ending leaves some questions, we never find out why there were people making shrinking chemicals on  the island and who they were and if the island was cleaned up after this incident. Curing the Taylors doesn’t take a lot of effort, it only takes a week to get them back to normal size. It doesn’t say how the specialist did this, if he looked at the notes from the island or contacted the experimenters. It also doesn’t say what he is a specialist of, it seems unlikely that it would be a top specialist for this very specific incident! I suppose the point of the story is not to worry about the why, but enjoy the fun adventure and the journey.

Tiny Taylors 6

Peril on Paradise Island

Plot:

Kay and Marion Digby along with Jean Ritchie, a friend, had set sail to an uncharted area of the Caribbean Sea in search of their father Professor Digby, who was unaccountably missing. After being caught in a tornado, the girls found them-selves on a strange exotic floating island of weeds and flowers.

peril on paradise island

Notes:

  • Art: Jordi Franch

Appeared:

  • Peril on Paradise Island – Spellbound: #61 (19 Nov. 1977) – #69 (14 Jan. 1978)

The Outcast

Plot:

In 1925, against the wishes of her wealthy mill-owning father, Helen Mansfield became a teacher at the local primary school, Helen was very popular with her pupils, although their parents were still distrustful.

the outcast

Notes:

Artist: Ken Houghton

Appeared:

  • The Outcast – Spellbound:  #59 (05 Nov. 1977) –  #69 (14 Jan. 1978)

Neptune – Horse from the Deep

Plot:

Young gipsy, Roma Lee, is in hiding while her foster parents are in hospital, injured when the gipsies where thrown off their campsite. When Neptune, a beautiful white stallion, swims out of the sea, she trains him with the help of her new friend, Mandy.  After jumping badly at a gymkhana, Roma drives Neptune  back into the sea

neptune

Notes:

Appeared:

  • Neptune – Horse from the Deep – Spellbound:  #58 (29 Oct. 1977) –  #69 (14 Jan. 1978)

The Mystery Birds of Mora

Plot:

When the Marshall family inherited the remote Scottish island of Mora, they discovered that they had enemies—a flock of birds! Fiona was convinced that the birds were being controlled by someone, but her father dismissed this as nonsense. Fiona was sent to recover some stores from their wrecked boat but was attacked by birds.

Mystery birds of mora

Notes:

  • Art Jesus Redondo

Appeared:

  • The Mystery Birds of Mora – Spellbound:  #57 (22 Oct. 1977) –  #66 (24 Dec 1977)