Tag Archives: Alternate Reality

Who is Astra? [1983]

Published: Mandy PSL #62

Reprint: Mandy PSL #211

Artist: Kim Raymond

Plot

Esther Blake is having a hike out on Storm Peak with her father and brother Tom. Suddenly, a storm comes in without warning and lightning strikes Esther. Her condition almost kills her several times in hospital, and she has to be revived by artificial respiration, hovering between life and death.

When Esther returns home she starts having nightmares of her family being cruel towards her. They force her to do all the work while mocking, bullying and beating her. They sneer at how she has to do everything by hand, with no modern labour-saving devices to help her. She is dressed in rags and the house is shabby and run down.

Then Esther’s cousin Astra arrives to stay. Everyone marvels at how she could be Esther’s twin, except for the colour of her hair. Esther notices how she and Astra are virtual mirror image opposites. Astra even has the same scar on her left arm that Esther has on her right. Hmm, doppelganger alert here?

What the story pays less attention to verbally, but can be seen in most of the panels, is that Astra is wearing a star-shaped necklace. Meanwhile, Astra is making odd remarks about things she should not know about that have Esther becoming suspicious of her – in a worried sort of way.

In true doppelganger fashion, Astra is soon causing big trouble for Esther. She plays sly tricks to get Esther into trouble with the family and then sweetly telling them, oh please, please, don’t blame Esther. What makes it so easy is that the family always seem to instantly believe the worst of Esther despite Astra’s sugary sweet attempts to convince them otherwise – as if they were being poisoned or under a spell of some sort. And while they are harsh with Esther, they make a big fuss over Astra and what a sweet girl she is.

It’s exactly the same thing at school once Astra starts there with Esther. Astra’s tricks and everyone oddly assuming the worst of Esther all the time soon get Esther into big trouble with the teachers and losing her friends. Esther’s performance begins to suffer, both academically and athletically, and it’s not just because of Astra. Esther feels oddly tired and unwell and can’t understand why. Esther is soon pushed out of the sports teams while Astra takes her place. Everyone comments on Astra’s sporting performance being just like what Esther’s used to be (another clue?).

By now Esther has realised that Astra is pushing her out of everything and deliberately turning everyone against her. But she soon finds trying to speak out does no good with everyone just assuming the worst of her all the time.

Meanwhile the nightmares continue, but now they seem to be more than just nightmares. In one dream, the evil family chase Esther into brambles and thorns. When Esther wakes up she finds scratches on her arms and legs that were not there before. In another dream the abusers force her to scrub the floor until her hands are raw, and she still has to scrub. Next morning, Esther finds her hands look and feel exactly that way. She also suspects that Astra knows the contents of the dreams.

Then Esther dreams she is back on Storm Peak, and being hit by lightning. Astra and the evil parents come up behind her. Astra jeers that they have come for her, and eggs them on to carry Esther off. Esther breaks free of them but gets hit by lightning. When Esther wakes up, she is surprised to see Astra looking white and scared for a change. She realises Astra is scared because she knows about the dream.

Realising the dream means something, Esther heads straight to Storm Peak first thing in the morning. As she climbs up the peak, she sees Astra has followed.

Astra explains that she is the evil side of Esther. The lightning accident caused her to come in from a parallel universe where everything is the opposite of what it is in this one. Her plan is to take Esther’s place in this universe and drive Esther into the other universe, where the abusive versions of Esther’s family are waiting. Sure enough, they start appearing and Astra urges them to take Esther.

But Esther doesn’t think so because there is something different about Astra this time. Next second she realises what it is – Astra does not have her necklace. When Astra sees this, she screams that she’s lost her protector – “He-elp!” (Oh dear, Astra, left the house in too much of a hurry, did you?) Then lightning strikes both girls. Esther falls unconscious. Presumably because the protector is missing, the evil parents grab Astra and ignore her pleas for them to take Esther instead.

When Esther regains consciousness she finds everything is back to normal. All trace of Astra has disappeared and nobody but Esther knows anything about her. It’s as if Astra never existed at all. Esther concludes it must have been a dream or something. But later, Esther gets a nasty shock when Mum turns up Astra’s necklace while spring-cleaning. Dream – or what?

Thoughts

Evil doubles that are created to cause trouble for the protagonist until the protagonist finds the way to destroy them are not new in girls’ comics. But this one goes way above the usual doppelganger format because it’s got so many other well-established, popular formats thrown into the mix as well: the Cinderella theme, abusive guardians, the scheming troublemaker, the evil influence theme, and the regrettably less-used theme of the alternate reality. What’s not to like about this story? It brings together so many of the DCT themes that are always so popular on their own. Together they make for a really intense, exciting and crackling story where the protagonist is attacked on all sides from the threats posed not only by the evil double but also by the other themes listed above.

The scheming troublemaker who pushes the protagonist out with nasty tricks was one of the most frequent themes at DCT, but this version really catches the eye because it has supernatural elements attached. There are hints that Astra is exerting some evil influence on everyone to make them act so negatively towards Esther. We suspect this even more so once it is revealed that Astra’s necklace has powers of some sort. And it’s not because the antagonist is just spiteful or jealous as most troublemakers usually are. It has a far more sinister purpose – to weaken Esther and soften her up for transportation to the alternate reality while Astra takes Esther’s place.

However sinister the undertones of the scheming troublemaker scenes, they don’t hold a candle to the night terror dreams. These are truly the best moments of the story and what make it truly frightening. It’s even more terrifying when we find out that this is actually the fate that lies in store for Esther if Astra succeeds. This makes the climactic scene of Esther struggling against the evil guardians all the more electrifying – and it’s not just the lightning.

Ironically, the nightmares of the evil guardians also add a sympathetic element to the evil Astra. When we see what life is like at home for Astra through Esther’s nightmares we can certainly understand why Astra wants to escape that universe. But we are not going to have her throw Esther into that hellish universe in her place.

Here the Cinderella theme of girls’ comics gets turned on its head. Instead of some talent helping her escape her misery and getting a happy ending, the Cinderella gets thrown back into that life of abuse and drudgery. We may feel a pang of pity for Astra there. Yet we still want her gone and are relieved she is back where she belongs – because unlike the protagonists of the Cinderella stories, she is evil.

The Strange Tale of Sara’s Snap Encounter [1986]

  • The Strange Tale of Sara’s Snap Encounter – Suzy: #179 (8 February 1986) – #181 (22 February 1986)
  • Artist: David Matysiak

Plot

Sara Greaves usually gets her own way, so when staying at her Gran’s cottage, she doesn’t listen to her, when her gran tells her to stay out of the loft as it’s dusty and full of rubbish. As soon as her gran is preoccupied, Sara goes up to the attic to explore, she finds a stuffed parrot, doll house and a dusty box containing strange old snap cards. Suddenly she finds herself whisked away to the sinister land of the snap cards. She is greeted by the parrot from the attic, who introduces herself as Emily. She tells her she is a spoilt girl and forces her into playing a strange game of snap. The characters from the cards are now real people and Sara must find the matching pair if she is ever to return to her own world. Sara of course thinks this is ridiculous and wonders if it is some elaborate joke on her. She goes to a house to ask for help but is surprised when the person that answers is indeed one of the characters from the card. She then runs into the ‘beggar boy’ another snap character who tricks her into helping him steal, by getting her to distract a man. When the man attracts attention of constable, Sara doesn’t like her chances of her innocence in the crime being believed. So she makes a run for it.

She comes by a snake charmer, when she overhears him talking about “what a pair we make” she thinks she has found the pair she needs, but he was just talking to his snake and Sara startles them allowing snake to slip away. She still need to hide from the constables and ends up in a play when the actors assumes she is the actress they were looking for. The dress her up and put her on stage despite her protests. Of course she doesn’t know the lines, so the actors are not happy when their dramatic play turns into a comedy! Then a fire breaks out, the snake reappears when a fireman mistakes him for a hose and Sara manages to slip away from the madness. She sees Emily and chases after her,  when she tries to follow her into a castle she is stopped by a guard. Private Goodbody takes his job seriously, and won’t listen to why she wants to get into the castle, he even raises his rifle to her. Luckily he is stopped by Corporal McGlenn, who is nicer and keeps offering Sara sweets. He tells her he saw a bird fly down by the river. So she goes to try and find her there.

Sara is thoroughly fed up with the place and how no one listens to what she says. Another character, Sailor Sam, turns up and tells her maybe the characters are a bit like her doing their own thing and not taking notice of what people say. Sara admits that she has been awful at times but if she could get back home she could begin to change. Sam agrees to help her find Emily and the row down the river in his boat.  Suddenly the weather changes and everything starts freezing over. Sara notices a skater is about to skate into a part of the water that hasn’t frozen over yet. She manages to stop him just in time. Then his twin brother arrives, thanking Sara for saving his life. She has found the matching pair and Emily appears happy that she also thought of someone else’s welfare before her own. She is returned home a changed girl. Her gran find her in the attic and tells her that the cards belonged to her mother’s sister Emily, a sickly child who died when she was young. Sara apologises to her gran for disobeying her, telling her she won’t do it again.

Thoughts

Matysiak drew a number of short 3 episode stories for Suzy, usually with a fantasy or even creepy element, which certainly is suited to his style of art. It is an interesting world, it has a Wonderland vibe with strange, weird characters and little logic. Sara being the only one that is trying to be reasonable. While it is fun, there is a lot going on for such a short story, other Matysiak short stories like The Wrong Day or Brides of the Forest are more effective as their concepts are kept simpler. Here I feel it really could have used more episodes. Firstly to explore more this strange fantasy world. Secondly to show Sara’s selfishness and lesson learned, we are just told about how she is used to getting her own way but we don’t get to see it a lot. Thirdly it could have delved and hinted more on Emily’s past, earlier on, the revelation that Emily was her Gran’s aunt comes suddenly. I feel it was unnecessary, particularly as it hasn’t time to be developed, they could have left things simpler and left it one of those mysterious unexplained things, that someone wanted to teach Sara a lesson.

Hard Mercy

Plot

Mercy Green is stricken with a tropical fever and finds herself in an alternate London where life is hard and so are the people. This is because they are ruled and tyrannised by gangs of criminals known as “The Families” in a fascist jack-booted manner.

Hard Mercy.jpg

Notes

Appeared

  • Hard Mercy –  M&J:  #102 (24 April 1993) – #113 (10 July 1993)

The Sentinels

  • The Sentinels – Misty: #01 (04 February 1978) – #12 (22 April 1978)
  • Writer: Malcolm Shaw
  • Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

In an area called Birdwood there stands two large blocks of flats, which people have nicknamed the Sentinels. While families happily live in one of the buildings, the other is left abandoned due to strange things happening like people disappearing or seeing ghosts.  Jan Richards’ family are about to become homeless and her father sees their only option to stay together is to move into the abandoned block. On there first night there while looking for her dog, Jan runs into a double of her father, she is naturally confused.  Later she once more goes to look for Tiger, She sees out the window the school on fire and she runs into Tiger, but he seems to be scared of her and bites her when she approaches him.

   

The next day Jan finds the school hasn’t burnt down and Jan’s mother has an encounter of her own. Her parents are angry thinking Jan is trying to scare them to move out. Jan later goes looking for her younger siblings and notices one of the flats has 2 doors. She goes through and sees the school burnt down and decides to take a closer look. She runs into Tiger who is being all friendly again. She also meets her friend, Sally, who tells her she shouldn’t be out in the open. They get chased by helicopters and escape into the sewers. They are attacked by rats but Tiger defends them, he gets left behind to be eaten by rats while the girls escape. At Sally’s house, Jan learns all about the Nazis winning the war and Britain being a colony of Germany now. Sally’s parents give up Jan, but the girls escape back to Jan’s world. She is upset to learn her father disappeared when he went looking for her and she realises that he was captured in the Alt-World.

While Jan’s family move into council B&B temporarily, Sally learns that the council are planning to demolish the troublesome Sentinel and she will be trapped in this world. Jan thinks they should tell someone, but Sally thinks its too risky. Sally runs into her brother Terry of this world, this is upsetting for her as on her world, Terry was killed in her world.

They sneak back into the Sentinel only to be captured by the Partisons  (rebellions) of the Alt-World. These Partisons include Jan’s Alt-father. It seems they have a plan to escape the Nazis by replacing people from Jan’s world with their own. Fergus the leader of this idea soon backs down as he knows it makes him no better than who they are fighting against. They devise a plan to help Jan’s father. Richards only solution is to exchange himself with Jan’s father. Alt-Jan is quite upset at this.

The plan works and there are some tearful goodbyes, Alt-Jan gives Jan her dog. The rebels blow up the Sentinel on their side, to stop anyone using the gateway. Jan’s father recovers in hospital, he says there will be no problem with the Sentinel and he volunteers to move into Sentinel, to prove his point. While things may work out for Jan’s family, she only hopes that things will also be okay for her alternate family and friends.

Thoughts

Misty wasn’t a comic I grew up, but I can see why it is given so much praise. Even reading it now, I found myself really caught up by the stories. This is my favourite story, I’ve read from Misty. I do like stories that explore parallel worlds, but beyond that, this story also has well developed characters, tension, drama and action. I found myself really invested in the characters and the outcome.

This is only 12 issues long and the pacing is well delivered. The build up is good, the premise is creepy even before we get to the parallel world, the towers are depicted as something unsettling and ominous  When we get to the parallel world, it does portray a nightmare possibility, even when the Sally and Jan are back in Jan’s world, this contrast is still evident. Sally gets upset at meeting her brother who died as part of the rebellion in her world and also notes supermarkets filled with goods and people’s freedom to buy things without having to use coupons and being heavily restricted. With the threat of the Sentinel being pulled down, time is also of the essence for Jan to get her father back. Even when they get back to Alt-world, the tension is still built up that they may be too late to save Jan’s father. It is a thrilling and exciting read.

The art wonderfully depicts both worlds, and doesn’t shy away from showing some dark stuff, such as the severely beaten Mr. Richards.  It is great throughout the story, though I particularly like how some of the opening pages are done. Often the first page has a recap,and Capaldi uses this opportunity to be a bit more artistic with the framing and using the majority of the page to pull in the reader.

    

While clearly the Nazi world is a nightmarish world, Britain is not shown as some lucky paradise either. There is a depiction of the hard social times Britain was going through, reflected in this story. The Richards find them in the Sentinel, due to lack of housing, there is clear hardships and money struggles. It is a tone I’ve found reflected in other stories, from Misty even if it wasn’t the main focus. It is a clear product of it’s time and is interesting to see.

There are some serious dark moments, for a comic aimed at young girls. This is probably one of the reasons the book was praised so much, it wasn’t afraid to be dark and scary and didn’t try to talk down to the audience. There was a definite sense that there may not be a happy ending.  The dog getting eaten by rats, the father getting beat up, close to death by Nazis, are quite horrifying. While Jan’s family may have some future, the alternate world ends up on quite a grim note. While there are rebels still fighting and the they hope to rescue Mr. Richards, it is also pointed out that Mr. Richards will likely be killed and the family have to go on the run.

All of the characters are well developed, and although Jan is the main character, I felt myself most invested in Sally. She risks her life to help Jan, she is practical about keeping the gateway secret and when she breaks down after meeting her brother and seeing how Jan’s world is, she comes off as very sympathetic. Her goodbye to Jan, is sad, when she says she would have liked to have stayed in Jan’s world if it was possible.  So Sally is my favourite character but like I say all the characters are well portrayed, even smaller characters like Fergus, Jan’s family and the other Sally all get their moments.

This is a story I’d love to see this reprinted and re-released, there are so many other good stories as well, that I think could still be appreciated today.

Mirror Image

  • Mirror Image – Bunty PSL: #437
  • Artist: Veronica Weir

Plot/Thoughts

This is a story about Alternate Worlds. I personally love stories with alternate worlds, Fringe, Man in the High Castle, It’s a Wonderful Life are some of my favourite stories. While this story doesn’t reach the high levels of storytelling of the latter, it is still a fun read.

The main character, Donna, isn’t too happy with her life. She wishes that her family and life was different. She would like to live in a better modern house and have parents that are less eccentric and more attentive like her friend Denises. Denise on the other hand thinks Donna has a great life, a good family, a cool house and Donna is an A student.

When her Mum buys an old  three way mirror at an antiques fayre, Donna discovers it has special qualities.

 

So she is able to travel to alternate dimensions. She finds her first wish coming true, as in this world her parents are well off so she lives in a big modern house and has expensive clothes and all she ever wanted. Her mother is a famous professional artist and her father is a successful business man. Of course things aren’t as perfect as they first seem, her father is all smarmy calling her princess all the time and at her mum’s art exhibition she has a very boring evening with her parents ignoring her. Things don’t get any better when she goes to school next day and finds her friends are all stuck up. Having enough of this world she travels back to her own world. She discovers that hardly any time has passed in her world. Out of curiosity she decides to check out other dimensions.

She finds herself in a life where she isn’t smart and struggles at school. Her home life is dreary, her parents are strict. Her mother’s an art teacher and a dragon of a teacher. Which doesn’t make Donna popular with other students.

Donna is quick to leave this world and she decides she has enough of travelling to other worlds. But when she goes to talk to her parents they are both too busy to talk, feeling fed up Donna decides to give the mirror another go. She finds herself in a similar world to her own except that her and Denise are partners in competitive disco dancing. When Denise makes a mistake at a competition, Donna’s mum is quick to get rid of Denise and get Donna a better partner.  It turns out she’s a very pushy controlling stage mum, Donna begins to appreciate her own mother.

She is panicked when she discovers this mother has given away the mirror, she worries she will be stuck in this world forever, luckily she finds it at a jumble sale and is able to travel back. She is happy to be home and has realised she has a Wonderful Life after all.

It’s fun to explore alternate worlds. The art is good at representing the different people and worlds, Donna’s mother looks snobby in the first world , old fashioned in second world and sharp in the third world but they are all recognisable as the same person.  The moral is nothing new discovering that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but its a fun story anyway.