Tag Archives: Bullying

The Girl with the Power [1980]

Published: Tracy #31 (May 3 1980) – #41 (July 12 1980)

Episodes: 11

Artist: Carmona

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: None known

Special thanks to “Phoenix” for help with some episodes

Plot

Karen Chandler’s father has been jailed for buying stolen goods and attempted murder of an accomplice, the lorry driver, who is now in a coma. The only real evidence against him was the police finding him standing over the driver with an iron bar in his hand. Since then, Dad’s partners in a restaurant, Sam and Nadine Lee, have been turning Karen into a drudge at the restaurant. They lumber her with so much work she doesn’t even get proper sleep.  In addition to the drudgery, there is also bullying at school where the girls constantly tease Karen over her father’s imprisonment. It is no wonder that Karen’s schoolwork is suffering as well.

Karen’s fortunes change on the day the biology teacher sends her class out to collect specimens for a list of plants. Karen unwittingly trespasses into the Energy Research Unit when she fails to see a “Keep Out” sign. There is an explosion at the laboratory, which has Karen’s head spinning. But she doesn’t realise how much the accident has affected her until that evening when Mrs Lee orders her to bring up a heavy sack of potatoes from the cellar. When Karen wishes she didn’t have to lug that heavy sack up the stairs, the sack suddenly moves all the way up there all by itself! Karen realises the accident at the laboratory has somehow given her telekinesis, the power to move objects by thought.

All of a sudden, life has gotten a whole lot easier. It has to be kept secret though, because Karen does not want those slave-driving Lees to exploit her power if they find out about it. Instead, Karen uses her telekinesis for the purpose of secret survival, revenge, and help.

It all begins later that evening, when Mr Lee orders Karen to clean up the restaurant. He is astonished to find the restaurant looks like it has been cleaned up with super-speed or something (with Karen’s telekinesis of course). This enables Karen to get a proper night’s sleep for a change. From then on, the telekinesis helps Karen to get her work done in record time, much to the bafflement of the Lees. For example, when Karen wants to go to the circus, the Lees give her permission and even pay for her ticket – but on condition she gets all her work done first. Of course they deliberately lay even more work her to stop her going, but Karen gets it all done with her telekinesis. So the Lees have to let her go to the circus.

On another occasion Mr Lees lumbers Karen with the job of stripping off the wallpaper for redecorating – and late at night when Karen needs to be in bed – to save him the expense of having the decorator do it. He doesn’t care about Karen staying up half the night doing it, but of course her telekinesis spares her that. Next day, the decorator collapses because he has been working too hard, so Karen does the job for him telekinetically as he needs the money to take his sick wife on holiday. Mr Lee can’t understand why Karen receives a postcard from the decorator expressing gratitude for her help and saying his wife is getting better.

Naturally, Karen starts using her power to secretly strike back at the girls who have been bullying her about her father’s imprisonment. School bully Lydia Welch eggs them on to start baiting Karen, at which she uses her power to turn the window cleaner’s bucket toppling over them and giving them a soaking. Later Karen rescues a younger pupil from Lydia. After a few days, a teacher tells Karen that her schoolwork has improved tremendously. On a school outing to an open zoo, Lydia keeps making snide remarks about Karen’s father. Karen snaps and tips a drink in Lydia’s lap telekinetically.

Karen starts practising in the woods to test the strength of her power. After a week her power gets strong enough to tear trees down. Unfortunately the tree lands on top of Lydia, so Karen has to go get help for her. Yes, Karen definitely has to be careful how she uses that power as it can backfire!

When Lydia comes out of hospital, she is not grateful for the rescue, and continues to plague Karen. When the Welches invite Karen over for tea in order to say thank you, Lydia does not want them to do so again. So she plants her new watch in Karen’s bag to frame her for stealing. Luckily, Karen finds the watch and uses her telekinesis to send the watch back to Lydia’s room upstairs. It’s a challenge as this is the first time Karen has to move something to a destination that is totally out of her sight and without being able to direct it visually, because she can’t move from her seat. Fortunately it pays off, and Lydia is very surprised to find the watch back in her jewellery box!

Karen’s power scores over Lydia again when a temporary pupil, Mandy Clark, makes a friend for Karen against all the bullying. When Lydia tries to put Mandy out of a talent contest, it’s Karen’s power to the rescue. Karen also confronts Lydia with the evidence she carelessly dropped, and Lydia goes off looking very sour-faced.

Karen’s telekinesis enables her to get secret revenge on other people. For example, she strikes back at two rude customers by removing the meat from their plates, and their argument over it nearly comes to blows.

The power also helps Karen on occasions when she gets into real danger. One night, thieves break in to rob the restaurant, and they tie Karen up when she tries to give the alarm. Karen calls 999 telekinetically, and then hits one thief with sauce and the other with flour, which starts a fight between them. As planned, this delays the thieves long enough for the police to arrive. On the aforementioned visit to the zoo, Karen nearly becomes lunch for an escaped lioness and uses her power to stop the lioness mid-air when she tries to pounce.

Of course circumstances arise for Karen to use her power to secretly help other people, such as the exhausted decorator. And at the aforementioned visit to the circus, naughty boys set fire to the Big Top, and it’s a real blaze. Karen uses her power to help a boy who got trapped in the fire. Unfortunately the child sees Karen’s telekinesis and nearly gives her secret away when the circus folk come to reward her. Fortunately they put it down to the boy’s imagination. Karen gets some reward money and her picture in the paper. The Lees ham it up to the reporter about how they treat Karen like their very own daughter (ha, ha!) as they are capitalising on the publicity this will bring for their restaurant.

Sometimes the Lees’ cruelty just explodes in their faces, and Karen does not even need her power for that. On such an occasion, Mr Lee is trying to impress Alex Egan from The Daily Globe, as a mention in Alex’s “Good Restaurant” column will mean more business (and more work for put-upon Karen). Unfortunately for him, he assumes Alex Egan is a man and therefore focuses all attention on the male diner that night. Moreover, the chef and Mrs Lee are laid up with flu, so service slows right down with only Karen in charge and Mr Lee clearly not bothering to get extra help. But it turns out Alex Egan is a woman. She tells them she did not enjoy her meal due to the slow service, though she understands the pressure the waitress was under. So she will not be mentioning them in her column!

Matters come to a head when the police arrive and say the Lees are to accompany them to the police station; the lorry driver has come out of his coma and provided them with vital information. Mr Lee tries a desperate getaway by taking Karen hostage and holding a knife to her throat. Karen uses her power to slam the car door on his arm so he drops the knife, and then she knocks him out with a heavy box. He is arrested.

Karen is suddenly overcome with dizziness and put to bed. The doctor says she is suffering from exhaustion. When she recovers, she finds her father has returned. It turns out Mr Lee committed the crimes Dad was convicted of. An argument erupted between Mr Lee and the lorry driver who had been supplying him with the stolen goods, which resulted in Mr Lee hitting him with the iron bar. Dad came along at the wrong moment and made the cardinal error of picking up the iron bar. This led the police and then the jury to assume he had committed the assault. However, the lorry driver has come out his coma and told the police the truth.

Karen tries to display her telekinetic power in front of her father, but finds she no longer has it. The power has vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as it came. But then, Karen has her father back and is free of the Lees, so she does not need it anymore.

Thoughts

Here we have a protagonist who has not one but three fronts against her at once. The first is the Cinderella theme, where Karen is made the drudge in the restaurant under the Lees who lumber her with all the work and don’t care about her wellbeing at all. They make the excuse of food and board to not pay Karen a penny, and we get plenty of evidence that they are mean, money-grasping sods before the reveal comes at the end that they are criminals as well, and are responsible for Dad’s wrongful conviction. So Karen has been slaving for the very people who caused all her troubles in the first place. Talk about adding insult to injury!

The second is the unjust conviction theme, where the father is wrongly convicted. This has led to her slaving under the Lees, and Karen has to bear the stigma of a jailbird father as well. She cannot believe her father is guilty, which is the only thing she has to help her bear the stigma. Unlike other stories about wrongly accused fathers, clearing him is not the main thrust of the story, although of course it is the only way to resolve it in the final episode.

The third is the bullying theme, where Karen is the target of bullying and ostracism at school because of her father’s disgrace. She has a particularly spiteful enemy in Lydia Welch, who has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Throughout the story, Lydia picks on Karen and just loves to rub it in about her unfortunate father.

So it is only fair that Karen is given a particularly powerful weapon to deal with all three fronts. It’s a nice change for a Cinderella character to be given a secret power to help her cope with all the drudgery and misery instead of the more usual talent that she is determined to keep up amid all the abuse against her. Moreover, it is a power that makes life a whole lot easier for Karen. It helps her to get her monstrous workloads done in record time and enable her to get some space for treats, relaxation, and relief. It also helps her to strike back at the bullies at school and other unsavoury types she encounters, and even secretly help other people.

The means by which Karen gets the power in the first place is a bit unbelievable, as is her losing the power with no explanation whatsoever. It just seems to disappear at the most convenient moment – when it is no longer needed. The origin of the power could have been thought out better so it would be more credible to readers. For example, could some third party have given her the power, such as a stranded alien? Or could they have had Karen hit by, say, a bolt of electricity during the laboratory accident?

The power itself is one we all love – the power of telekinesis. We would all love to have telekinesis. It’s the perfect power for the situations Karen faces, including tackling heavy workloads, and does not get her into too many scrapes when things backfire a bit. It is understandable that Karen wants to keep her power a secret because she is afraid of the Lees exploiting it. She is not Carrie, who uses her power openly to strike back at all the abusers when they push her too far. Karen does use her power to strike back, but unlike Carrie she has to do it discreetly. It is also fortunate for Karen that the Lees never seemed to grow suspicious of how she seemed to get her work done so miraculously and keep a discreet eye on her while she worked.

The way in which the father is cleared comes a bit quick in the last episode, but it does not come across as contrived. The setup for the father’s vindication (the unconscious lorry driver recovering and making a statement) had been there from the beginning. It was just waiting for the go-ahead to be developed in the final episode. Until then, there is no pursuing the avenue of clearing him. Karen does no investigating into that line (too much on her plate as it is, even with the power) and there are no clues to make her or the readers suspect the Lees. It is pretty odd that the Lees did not try to kill the lorry driver in hospital; their attack on Karen at the end suggests they could be capable of it. Perhaps they feared it would arouse suspicion?

The House that Jackie Bought [1980]

Plot

Jackie Stanton wins £2,000 in an essay writing competition, which she uses to buy her family’s council house for them. However, this proves to be a very unwise move because it arouses hostility among the locals. Their antagonism reaches such a pitch that the Stantons become targets of bullying, harassment, physical attacks, and even frame-ups on false charges.

Then a gang of hoodlums start a crime wave of thefts from empty houses, and it looks like they are trying to shift the blame onto the Stantons.

Jackie realises graffiti against her on the school wall was written by a classmate, Steve Bristow. After reexamining all the attacks against her, she realises everything points to the Bristow family. This is further confirmed when Jackie recognises Steve’s writing from a note wrapped around a brick thrown through the Stantons’ window, and she threatens him with the police. He says he was only copying the big boys.

Suspecting her house will be targeted that night, Jackie throws a party for the neighbours that same night, and has a policeman as a special guest – and witness. As predicted, the burglars target the neighbours’ empty houses. Jackie helps the policeman and neighbours to catch the criminals in the act, and they are indeed the Bristows. After this, the antagonism towards the Stantons just disappears.

Notes

Appeared

  • The House that Jackie Bought – Tracy: (?) – #42 (19 July 1980)

 

The Traitor’s Daughter [1978]

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #185

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

The recent “Force of Evil” entry raised the theme of a girl battling to clear her father when he is accused of treason. However, it did so in a manner that was totally atypical from the way the theme was usually used in girls’ comics. This story is an example of one way in which the theme was more commonly followed.

Plot

Fifteen-year-old Trixie Collins is the most popular girl at St Anne’s School (we have a horrible feeling this is about to change). Trixie’s best friends are Hazel Begby and Molly Teal. Of course Trixie does have enemies, and they take the form of the jealous, stuck-up Monica Dalby and Freda Morgan. They wish they could take Trixie down a peg. (And is it our imaginations, or do Freda and Monica bear a striking resemblance to Mabel and Veronica from “The Four Marys”?)

After sports day, Trixie is surprised to find a note in her shoe from Dad, Professor James Collins, a British scientist. He says to meet him at the tennis courts that night, and it’s urgent. This has Trixie very worried and she wonders if something is wrong, seeing as how Dad phoned to say he could not make it to her sports day.

At the tennis courts, Dad says that things are going to happen that are going to make Trixie very unhappy. But she must be brave, trust him, and not be ashamed, whatever happens. Then he departs, without really explaining what is going on.

Next day, the newspapers give Trixie her answer: Dad has been arrested for selling government secrets to a foreign power. Now Trixie is branded “a traitor’s daughter”, and becomes shunned and bullied. Girls are saying she should be expelled. The headmistress Miss Henderson says she will let Anne stay, though she says she will be surprised if Trixie has any friends left. And of course the jealous Monica and Freda finally have their chance to take Trixie down a peg, and set out to milk Trixie’s downfall for all its worth.

Even Molly and Hazel have gone against Trixie – or so it seems. They are just pretending they are in order to protect her from any nasty schemes Monica cooks up. Trixie begins to suspect they are secretly friendly when Molly deliberately hurts herself so Trixie, reduced to reserve on the swimming team, can swim for the school. The school does not cheer for Trixie when she wins, and the rival school can’t understand why.

The bullying gets worse when Dad is found guilty of treason; Trixie finds her room vandalised (as shown on the cover). Then, when there is a television report that Dad has escaped from prison, Trixie can’t take anymore and tries to run away. Molly and Hazel stop her, revealing that they are indeed secretly friendly and feeling guilty about not being more courageous earlier. Trixie pledges to keep their secret and has more strength to endure her ordeal now she knows she has friends.

The police speak to Trixie about her father. She declares that she will do what he says if he contacts her, even if he was guilty, and will not report him. After she goes, the police tell Miss Henderson they can now make their plans accordingly. Soon after, Trixie receives a sealed envelope from Dad saying it is top secret and not to open it. She is to keep it in a safe place, but someone steals it, and Monica was around at the time. Meanwhile, a new porter named Jobling starts work at the school.

That night the thief (kept in shadows) hands over the envelope to her father. When he opens it he finds it is just blank paper: “You silly, little fool, you’ve been tricked.” He tells the thief to try again for the real papers, so the thief searches Trixie’s study again. But the thief gets surprised by Miss Henderson, and has to knock her out with a hockey stick in order to escape. When the police investigate, they find the incriminating hockey stick on Trixie.

In private, Miss Henderson tells Trixie that she does believe Trixie’s protests of innocence. For the moment, though, they have to let the school think otherwise. Miss Henderson tells Trixie that next time she wants something looked after, she is to hand it over for safekeeping in the school safe, and make sure the whole school sees her do it. Trixie ponders as to how Miss Henderson knew about the envelope when she didn’t tell anyone. (Hmm, could Miss Henderson be another secret friend?)

At a hockey match with a rival school (and no cheers for Trixie, even when they win the match), Monica tries to whack the hockey ball at Trixie’s head. However, a quick catch from Jobling saves Trixie from injury. The sports mistress is suspicious of Monica but has no proof, so she can only give Monica a warning. Afterwards, Trixie finds another sealed envelope from Dad, with instructions to hand it over to Miss Henderson and let people know what she has done. To make sure of this, Trixie hands it to Miss Henderson during assembly.

A few days later it is school prize-giving time. Monica and Freda are furious to see that Trixie is being awarded the prize for best scholar. When Monica’s father visits, he asks her about the envelope Trixie was sent, and is infuriated to learn that it was handed over to Miss Henderson for safekeeping, which means it is in her safe. Mr Dalby works in the same department as Trixie’s father and thinks the letter may be a clue as to his whereabouts. They do not realise Jobling is in earshot.

Dalby and Freda’s parents make their way into Miss Henderson’s study, saying they are very displeased that Trixie has been allowed to remain at the school and even threaten to withdraw Freda because of it. Miss Henderson stands her ground on letting Trixie stay. After the prize giving (where nobody applauds except Hazel, Molly and their parents) Dalby tells Monica to get Trixie expelled, for he just has to get his hands on that letter. So Monica sets about planting her medal on Trixie to get her expelled for stealing. She does not realise Jobling is watching her do it while cleaning the windows. But when Jobling reports to Miss Henderson, he says it was Trixie that did it!

Trixie is expelled and Jobling escorts her to the train. As she leaves the school, Miss Henderson hands her the envelope. Monica sees this and reports to her father. Trixie does not realise Jobling has also boarded the train.

On the train, two thugs confront Trixie, claiming to be police officers. That doesn’t work of course, so they try to make a grab for the envelope. But real police officers burst in and arrest them. Dalby, who is also on the train, discovers his men have been captured. He tries a getaway by jumping off the train, but Jobling stops him and soon Dalby is under arrest as well.

Jobling is now revealed to be…yes, Dad in disguise! Dad explains it was all a plan to trap Dalby. Dalby was the real traitor selling government secrets to the enemy. Dad managed to recover some of the documents but nothing could be proven. So he ended up taking the rap. Those envelopes were bait to catch Dalby, and Miss Henderson was part of the plan to catch him (though just how or why she came to be in on it is not explained).

Now Dad has been cleared, Trixie is no longer under a cloud at St Anne’s. A humbled Monica is “banished the school” (they could have phrased that better!).

Thoughts

All right, for this story to make sense, either of two things had to be going on: 1) the whole thing had been a sting operation from start to finish to flush out Dalby. Dad agreed to be falsely convicted and then sprung from prison so he could go undercover to help flush out Dalby, and he had been working with the police and Miss Henderson the whole time. Or 2) Dad’s conviction was genuine. But by the time he escaped (assuming that was not done with connivance), the police had realised they had the wrong man and begun to suspect Dalby. They caught up with Dad and then concocted the sting operation, with help from Miss Henderson.

Either way, Dad was more fortunate to have so many people to help him when he was falsely accused of treason. Usually such Dads have little more than their family to stand by them. If they are forced to go into hiding they pretty much have to rely on themselves and secret contact with their families, as in “That’s My Girl!” from Mandy. We really applaud Miss Henderson, the headmistress who is more helpful than most in girls’ serials, particularly in stories that deal with bullying. There are not many headmistresses in girls’ comics who are willing to take a crack on the head for their pains, so Miss Henderson is definitely one of the best ever in girls’ comics. We also praise Hazel and Molly, who showed that they really were Trixie’s best friends. Though they don’t get the chance to help unmask Dalby or Monica, they help give Trixie the strength to get through her ordeal and not give in, which helps the undercover operation to continue its course.

From the moment we see the cover, we know what the poor girl on the cover will go through in the course of this story. We bleed inside for her already because it looks so horribly ugly and disturbing. The bullying and ostracism that Trixie undergoes is a very sad but realistic reaction to the charges against her father. In real life, when someone is accused of a crime, their whole family can become ostracised and harassed, just because they are related to him/her and have committed no crime themselves. We all cry for Trixie and we agree with her that it is so unfair to be treated so badly as the ‘sins’ of the father fall upon his child, who had nothing to do with the treason. The demands that Trixie be expelled for what her father is accused of are totally unfair as well, as they are not crimes she committed.

It is no surprise that Monica, the girl who hates Trixie the most, turns out to be linked to the man who did the dirty on Trixie and her father. This is a common thing in girls’ serials that deal with false accusations. We can certainly see where Monica got her nasty nature from. She does not seem to be aware that her father is the real traitor; he has led her to believe that the envelopes contain clues to Collins’ whereabouts, not that they contain secret documents. However, the lengths she goes to in order to get the envelopes (kayoing Miss Henderson, framing Trixie for theft) show just what she is capable of. If she had known her father’s true motives, she might have helped him anyway. Hopefully her humbling and the shame of her father going down for treason will deter her from going down any dark paths in future.

Force of Evil [1985-1986]

Published: Suzy #170 (7 December 1985) – #181 (22 February 1986)

Episodes: 12

Artist: Andy Tew

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin for help with episodes and scans

Plot

It is (at the time of publication) the future year of 1990. Britain has been invaded by the dictatorial Sin-Pact forces. There is some hint that they may not occupy the whole of Britain (we later learn the British government is still around somewhere, though underground). Perhaps the country is divided into an occupied zone and a free zone, as France was during World War II. Or maybe they do occupy the whole of Britain; the British Government has gone underground. In any case their invasion has been so recent they are still setting up their occupancy; for example, they are still building their watch towers.

Not surprisingly, the story gives no details on exactly who the Sin-Pact invaders are, where they come from, or what their political and religious dogmas are. They have an Asian look, but their “S” emblem is clearly English. There is no mention of a leader or founder of Sin-Pact. Just how or why they invaded Britain is not discussed either, and there is no mention of international intervention. Nor does the story explain just what “Sin-Pact” means (but we can imagine the jokes about it!).

But there is no mistaking that their oppression is evil and making life increasingly harsh and cruel for the people they have invaded. At home, Carol and Joe Peel’s mother has to cook meals over a meagre fire because the power has been cut. Severe food rationing is in, and later we learn the British diet is deteriorating because the Sin-Pacters are keeping certain foods, such as milk, for themselves. Curfews are introduced, and even the slightest hint of resistance against the Sin-Pacters is met with severe punishment. For example, a prefect named Howard Preston at school is arrested for burning a Sin-Pact flag, which is punishable by death. Megaphones broadcasting Sin-Pact announcements are everywhere. The letter “S”, the Sin-Pact equivalent of the Nazi swastika, becomes the most hated letter in Britain, and it is popular for collaborators to be daubed and sprayed with the letter “S”.

Emotional and psychological effects of the oppression take hold. People grow frightened, paranoid, and suspicious of anyone suspected of collaborating or spying. Hatred takes its grip and people begin to lose their reason. And this is precisely what Carol is finding out. Her father, Paul Peel, went missing the day the Sin-Pacters invaded and everyone is whispering that he has turned traitor, though there is not a shred of evidence of that (yet). Carol finds everyone is shunning her because they suspect she is a collaborator too. The kids at school whisper their fathers are joining the Resistance and don’t want Carol to overhear.

It looks like everyone’s suspicions are confirmed when Peel appears on the big screen broadcasting Sin-Pact announcements, including lists of upcoming executions and Sin-Pact rules that are updated daily. The rules begin with: “Rule One – Sin-Pact soldiers are to be afforded utmost respect. This means attacks on their persons are punishable by death. Rule 2 – Sin-Pact property is also to be respected. Theft of weapons, transport and supplies will merit the same punishment.”

Carol can’t believe her father is a traitor. She thinks he must be being forced to make those broadcasts or something, perhaps under threat of what could happen to his family. She is determined to prove her father is innocent of treason. Standing behind Carol all the way is their dog Col.

But of course everyone else thinks otherwise. Once the father starts his broadcasts, the Peels are faced with full-scale hatred and harrassent, which begins with a brick being thrown through their window. When the Sin-Pact soldiers arrive to query the vandalism, Carol covers up for the neighbours, but they don’t appreciate it one bit. They want the Peels out, especially when they hear the Sin-Pact soldiers saying the Peels are to be highly respected. As the neighbours dare not attack the Peels directly now, they hit back in more subtle ways, such as giving them food rations that are unfit to eat. And when Preston is arrested for the Sin-Pact flag burning, his family declare revenge against the Peels if he is executed.

Mum sends younger brother Joe to Gran’s farm, but she sends him home with food. They wonder if Gran has disowned them, but then Gran had always hated her son-in-law. The marriage went ahead over her dead body, and when she appears later in the story she comes across as one nasty old bat.

Despite what is happening to them, Carol won’t have a bar of the Sin-Pact soldiers and remains loyal to Britain. For example, when the Sin-Pact soldiers give them better food rations, Carol refuses it, saying they must not use enemy food. The mother says it won’t do any good to starve themseves, and has accepted everything the Sin-Pacters have given the family because they are the family of the honourable Paul Peel. This illustrates the difficult position of principle versus survival, an all-too-common situation in wartime.

The Peels hear about possible retaliation from the Preston family. Mum uses a special phone the Sin-Pacters have given her in order to talk to Officer 98z about this (he has occupied prison cells behind him marked “death row”). He arranges for them to be given false identity papers and relocated to a new town.

Carol finds the address of the ration warehouse on the box of rations and heads out to find it in the hope of tracking down her father. Col comes with her. On the way she sees her father broadcast another announcement that all builders must give priority to Sin Pact projects and miners must mine coal for export to the Sin-Pact stockpiles. When Carol crosses into Sin-Pact territory she sees watch towers being built and comments, “They seem determined to turn every British town into a prison camp.”

Then Carol runs into the Resistance and tells their leader she is looking for Sin-Pact HQ to free her father. But when the leader finds a photograph of the hated Peel on her (very bad mistake, Carol!) and she says it’s her father, the Resistance tie her up. She manages to free herself.

The Sin-Pact men arrive. The Resistance try to pass themeselves off as farm workers. The Sin Pact men say they don’t need farmers, which sounds pretty odd as they surely need farmers for food production. Most likely it is just their excuse for sending them to Furze Common Warehouse. They capture Carol too and bring her along.

On the way the truck has a road accident occurs, which enables the Resistance to escape. Carol stays on in the hope of finding her father, but it has the Resistance becoming even more convinced she is a spy.

At the warehouse Col is taken to patrol with soldiers; a soldier says dogs are not for friendship but to enforce discipline. A Trustee i.e., a prisoner who reports misbehaviour in exchange for lighter work, and doesn’t look a nice type either, takes Carol to the barracks. A prisoner pushes a large box on the Trustee from above, which hurts her leg. Carol realises she will be next for an ‘accident’ if anyone at the warehouse finds out who her father is. She steals an opportunity to smuggle herself to Sin-Pact HQ in a food truck, but Col unwittingly spoils her escape when he joins her in the truck, so the Sin-Pact men find them.

However, the Sin-Pact men recognise Carol, for they have been on the lookout for Paul Peel’s daughter. They send her to rejoin her family at Gran’s farm. Gran has always branded Dad a bad lot; Mum had to defy her in order to marry him and Gran clearly still resents that. She is also angry at how Sin-Pact is taking the produce she makes for themselves. Gran starts taking it all out on her relatives, especially Carol, who still protests her father is innocent of treason.

Then there is a broadcast from Dad announcing the latest lineup of people who have been executed. Among them is Howard Preston. Joe throws a welly at the TV screen because he is so disgusted at how Dad is smiling as he reads out the death list and says he never wants to have anything to do with his father again.

Gran sees kids stealing her crops and chases them off. The kids call her a meanie who can’t begrudge a few carrots and turnips to the starving. As they take off, they call Gran a “mean old witch” (we certainly agree) and say they will burn an effigy of her alongside the one of the “Sin-Pact guy” they are going to burn that night.

That night Carol discovers the effigy of the “Sin-Pact guy” means her father, and realises what will happen to her family if these hate-crazed people find out they are related to him. Gran is not concerned at seeing Dad being burned in effigy, but takes umbrage at the sight of her own effigy joining him in the fire. She blames Carol, saying it’s her fault for running away, and calls Carol a spy that Sin-Pact planted on her. Gran now makes Carol take her meals outside, and Mum does not stand up to Gran.

Being forced to eat outside makes Carol vulnerable to more harassment from the villagers. They call her an informer, daub “S” on her clothes and equipment, and then throw her into a trench and open the sluice gates on her. Carol is in real trouble because she cannot swim.

Then a mysterious figure appears and helps Carol out with a rope. He disappears before she can get a good look at him. He leaves a note telling her to leave the area immediately and don’t stop to say goodbye at the farm. Carol decides to have another crack at finding Sin-Pact HQ. Mum and Joe join in; the stranger had left a note explaining the attempt on Carol’s life. Mum apologises for not standing up to Gran.

They all set off, stopping at a diner for food. However, the Sin-Pact men arrive, looking for travel papers. The waitress offers to help them to hide in the kitchen, but betrays them and locks them in. They smash a window to make it look like they have escaped while in fact they are hiding in the disused frying cabinets.

The Sin-Pact men fall for the ruse. But the Peels have to double back through the café to collect Col, which means they could be spotted again. They hide under the Sin-Pact lorries, and hear a broadcast recalling the lorries to Sin-Pact HQ. The lorries go north, so the Peels head in that direction too. The waitress is not rewarded for betraying the Peels.

However, the Peels have to walk there, and it begins to tell on their feet and shoes. They bump into a girl who says Sin-Pact is requisitioning her ponies for transport, but she suspects it’s for food. The Peels offer to help – and getting themselves some transport – by taking the ponies away before Sin-Pact does. Assuming the Peels are from the Resistance, the girl agrees.

As the Peels ride along, Carol discovers she is the only one left in the family who believes her father is not a traitor and there must be a good reason for his conduct. Even Mum has come to think he is the traitor everyone says he is.

Then, while watering the ponies, Carol and her family bump into the Resistance leader. The Resistance leader now thinks Carol is not a spy, just a loyal, misguided daughter who genuinely believes her father is innocent, though he does not. They set off for Sin-Pact HQ with ammunition stolen from them. However, a signal had been put in the ammunition pack, at Peel’s suggestion, which gets them discovered and captured. All members of the Resistance are being rounded up and put in a shed at Sin-Pact Headquarters. Peel does not even seem to recognise his own son, and for the first time, Carol begins to wonder if her father is a traitor after all. It looks like Col the dog is turning traitor too, because he jumped into the staff car with Peel, looking so happy. Or is the dog the only one left who does not believe Peel is a traitor?

On Peel’s orders, the Sin-Pact men direct the prisoners to put on protective suits to test their efficiency. The prisoners think the suits are defective and it’s a ruse to kill them all. But as soon as the prisoners don the suits, the Sin-Pact soldiers are surprised to see the gas flooding in ahead of schedule and they are all knocked out.

From a loudspeaker in a helicopter, Paul Peel speaks: He is really a British agent working undercover as a traitor and collaborator. His infamous broadcasts were in fact coded messages. The gas will keep the Sin-Pact soldiers unconscious for 15 minutes, during which time the Resistance are to tie them up, commandeer their vehicles, and load the vehicles with as many weapons as possible. They are to rendezvous with units at secret checkpoints waiting for those lorries and weapons. Clearing out Sin-Pact is not expected to be too difficult because the Sin-Pact leaders have now been captured. So Carol’s belief that her father is innocent of treason has finally been vindicated!

When Dad lands, he is demanding explanations as to why his family is present; he had expected them to stay out of trouble after the way he had to rescue Carol from the trench. Carol explains that she could not believe he was a traitor and was trying to prove it. Dad appreciates the family loyalty and apologises for what he had to put them through as part of his cover. They are quite understanding and are so glad to be together again.

Thoughts

If this story had appeared in one of DCT’s more common titles like Bunty or Mandy, or been reprinted in Bunty (the title Suzy merged into), there is little doubt it would still stick with people and be well remembered. Instead, it has fallen into obscurity because it appeared in a less-known title that is very hard to find these days. Hopefully this story will now receive more well-deserved recognition. It’s not just because it’s such strong stuff from beginning to end. It’s also because there arguably has never been anything quite like it in girls’ comics before. I certainly haven’t seen anything like it elsewhere, anyway.

There have been zillions of stories where the protagonist has to pretend to be a collaborator who’s in with the bad guys in order to be the secret helper, and in so doing suffer the hatred of the very people she is trying to help in secret. “Catch the Cat!”, “Detestable Della” and “Hateful Hattie” are some of the better-known of these stories. However, the reader usually knows that the supposed antagonist of the story is in fact the secret protagonist and is with her all the way. But not in this case. Paul Peel as the secret helper working undercover as a collaborator is not revealed until the end. Until then, the story is taken from the viewpoint of the people who assume he (or she) is the hated collaborator and do not know that he/she is in fact the secret helper.

There have been other stories where the secret helper is not the protagonist but the apparent flunky of the main villain, such as Jo the Clown in Tammy’s “Circus of the Damned”. At first the flunky has the protagonist fooled, but gradually clues emerge that has the protagonist suspect the truth. But that does not happen in this case either. No clues are forthcoming that hint Paul Peel may in fact be a secret helper; all the way until the end he looks a traitor.

“Force of Evil” also draws on the formula of a father being wrongly accused and the daughter setting out to prove his innocence while he’s in prison or on the run. Except that this case we don’t even know if the father is innocent but he sure is acting like he’s guilty!

“Force of Evil” uses all these basic formulas, but is so unique in turning them completely inside out in the way it does. The story keeps the reader guessing right up to the end as to where Paul Peel’s loyalties actually lie and why he is working with Sin-Pact. Is he a genuine traitor or is there a good reason for his actions, as Carol hopes and believes? We have no clues to help us, only Carol’s loyalty and faith against all the evidence that looks so black against him. Her mother and brother hope that, but eventually they get worn down and come to belive he must be a traitor. And when it looks like Peel has betrayed his own family, Carol finally begins to wonder if she has been a victim of false hopes after all.

The story very cleverly has Carol never guessing that her father might actually be working undercover. If that had happened it would have given the whole game away for the reader. Instead, she always assumes her father is doing it under duress, but her father’s such a good actor that even Carol herself begins to doubt that towards the end. Thank goodness she didn’t need to wait too long to get her answer!

It is also unusual that the main figurehead of the villainy is the one who is the secret hero. Paul Peel may be a ‘flunky’ for Sin-Pact, but they are such colourless and indistinct villains that none of them can be called a main villain. The only one out of Sin-Pact who gets any distinction as a main villain is Paul Peel himself, until he is revealed as a pretend villain.

The Sin-Pact villains would be developed more if Carol had been conducting a one-girl war of resistance against them as the protagonists do in stories like “Catch the Cat!” and “Wendy at War”. But although Carol remains staunchly opposed to them, her fight is not with them. Her goal is to prove her father’s innocence, and this pits her against the the face of public hatred. And it is for this reason that the people who hate Carol’s father or assume Carol is a collaborator emerge as far more powerful and dangerous villains than the Sin Pact men. They also more distinct characters, particularly the horrible Gran, who is far more rounded than any of the Sin-Pact men. We are not at all sorry to see Gran burned in effigy, even if we’re still not sure about the effigy of Paul Peel.

The story does not shy away from the grimness of war and callousness of enemy occupation, and people’s psychological and emotional reactions to them. As they say, it is bringing out the best in people and the worst in others. Even supposedly decent people are reverting to a more animal level as starvation, desperation, hatred and trauma take hold. Others are using it to unleash axes to grind; Gran, for example, is clearly using the whole situation to vent long-standing hatreds towards her son-in-law and make excuses for carrying out the nasty behaviour that is clearly her nature.

It makes no bones about the horrors of lynch mob behaviour towards even suspected collaborators, which makes it an even darker wartime story. It also shows that different reactions to war and occupation can divide households. Carol, for example, refuses to have anything to do with receiving enemy supplies but her mother thinks there is little choice but to do so. The debate over whether or not the father is a traitor also has the family quarrelling. All the same, the mother and brother tag along with Carol to find Sin-Pact HQ, even if they don’t believe the father is innocent as Carol does.

While other people have reverted to more bestial behaviour, Carol is one who never loses her courage, principles and compassion, not even in the face of all the horrible treatment she gets on all sides. She takes time out to help others despite her own problems, such as the girl who is about to lose her ponies to Sin-Pact. She has far more backbone than her mother, who does not stand up for things she believes in as much as Carol does. She does not even stand up to her mother for her horrible treatment of Carol. This may be rooted in Mrs Peel’s upbringing; from the looks of it she grew up under the thumb of a domineering mother and it was not until she married that she began to think for herself. But even as an adult, it looks like Mrs Peel still has problems exerting her will and being assertive when needed. No wonder Gran hates her son-in-law. We can just see the look on her face when he receives his knighthood and OBEs (those are coming, surely?) and being honoured as the man who saved Britain by making himself the most hated man in Britain!

Blackmailed! [1987]

Published: Suzy 236 (March 14 1987) – 249 (June 13 1987)

Episodes: 14

Artist: Barrie Mitchell (unconfirmed)

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to “Phoenix” for help with the episodes

Plot

Anne Smith’s father had taken a job that turned out to be a terrible mistake for the entire family. The company has been exposed as fraudulent one that swindled pensioners, and the swindlers have disappeared with the money. Mr Smith knew nothing about the fraud and took the job in good faith. Although nothing has been proven against him, the press reports associate him with the crimes. Consequently everyone in town has turned against the Smiths and all the girls at school are bullying Anne over it.

So the Smiths change their names to Brown and Anne changes her name to Lorna. They move to Kelbury, a town over 300 miles away, and Mr Brown’s new moustache is really effective at disassociating him from the press photos.

The family settle very happily into their new life and Lorna is enjoying her new school. But they can never fully escape the fear that the past will catch up one way or other.

It happens when Janet Dawson, a horrible girl from Lorna’s old school, transfers to her new one and is placed in her class. Janet’s parents couldn’t control her and sent her to live with her aunt in the hope that a fresh start would turn her around. Some hopes! Once Janet recognises “Lorna” as Anne Smith she starts to blackmail her. Initially Lorna tries to stand up to Janet, but gives in when Janet flourishes a copy of the newspaper with the headline “Pensioners Robbed Of Savings” and a photograph of Lorna’s father, and says: “So you’re not taking me seriously, eh? Maybe this will change your mind!”

Janet uses the blackmail to have Lorna take the blame for all the sneaky things she does so everyone will think she has become a sweet, reformed person, while Lorna is made to look increasingly untrustworthy and troublesome in the eyes of her classmates, school staff and, eventually, her parents. For example, Janet blackmails Lorna into buying a magazine that is so expensive that it leaves her with insufficient money for a present for a hospitalised classmate. Janet astonishes and impresses the class by offering to pay on Lorna’s behalf. Later, Lorna has to turn a blind eye to Janet stealing from the tuck shop and ends looking unreliable when the teacher finds the stock sold isn’t adding up with the day’s sales. On another occasion, Janet blackmails Lorna out of the money she earned from a babysitting job. When Lorna’s mother insists that Lorna give Janet half of the babysitting fee, Janet makes it look like she being absolutely gracious because she refuses to take the half (as she already has it all!). Janet certainly has people fooled in this way. For example, during tea at Janet’s aunt’s place, the aunt says she is so pleased with Janet’s behaviour these days after the Dawson parents sent her over for being such a problem child at home.

Janet’s blackmail also makes Lorna increasingly unpopular in class. For example, she blackmails Lorna to lend her PE blouse although if anyone is without kit, the whole class will end up doing maths instead. Eventually the whole class turns against Lorna because of Janet.

Janet also starts wangling her way into Lorna’s home, on pretext of being invited to tea, in order to exert more blackmail. Janet drops hints that she has recognised Lorna’s father. She blackmails Lorna into handing over her prized belongings. Among them is a Sunday School prize book that has Lorna’s real name in it – and which Janet can use for more blackmail. She tells Lorna that she is going to sell it at the school book fair; Lorna ends up having to give Janet £5 to give the book back. Janet blackmails Lorna out of chocolate, cassettes and clothes. She copies Lorna’s answers in a school exam and claims it was Lorna who was copying. This has Lorna’s parents convinced that Lorna is turning into a delinquent and Lorna won’t tell them what’s going on.

Janet’s blackmail now has Lorna looking a thief. Janet blackmails her way into a weekend trip with Lorna’s family. She blackmails Lorna into shoplifting a necklace. When Lorna puts it back, the manager thinks she was trying to steal it, but fortunately he does not press charges. But Lorna isn’t so lucky at a schoolfriend’s party. Janet blackmails her into stealing a moneybox, and if caught she must take the blame. The schoolfriend catches Lorna in the act and throws her out. When Lorna’s parents hear about the incident they check Lorna’s bank account and discover there is nothing left (all gone on Janet’s blackmail of course). They stop Lorna’s pocket money, so now Janet can’t blackmail Lorna out of that.

Lorna decides things can’t get any worse, so when Janet tries to blackmail her again she just tells her to get lost. But Lorna soon finds that things can indeed get worse – Janet vandalises the cloakroom and frames her for it. Lorna is suspended. Lorna’s mother demands to know why she is acting in this way and Lorna won’t tell her the truth.

Then the police arrive and say they have caught the swindlers, who made a full confession that clears Lorna’s father. It will be all over the newspapers the following day. Now Lorna is free of Janet’s blackmail she can explain everything when she and her mother go to see the headmistress. Janet is expelled, and while she leaves, she tells her classmates: “I had a good run before I was expelled. And I took you other mugs in, didn’t I? You thought I was really nice.” The classmates realise Lorna was being blackmailed and become friends with her again. The story does not say whether or not Lorna changes her name back to Anne.

Thoughts

The story comes from a long line of blackmail serials where a girl gets blackmailed because of a family secret. Most often it is an unjustified disgrace that always gets cleared up by the end of the story, which is the case here. Other means of blackmail have included jobs, false information, and incriminating diaries.

The concept of a nasty girl who pretends to be a reformed character or pulls some other sort of deception in order to continue her dirty ways in secret is not new either. Stories that have used this include The Quiet One from M&J and RoseMary from Nikki. But here it is combined with the blackmail theme in which the problem girl orchestrates her evil ways through the girl she is blackmailing and using her as the scapegoat for when things go wrong. In this way she can continue her nasty ways while presenting a reformed face to her aunt and parents without fear of being caught out. She isn’t just using the blackmail for the usual demands (money, favours, cheating etc), though she does that too, of course. And what enables Janet’s blackmail to continue in this way is Lorna not telling her parents what is going on. Instead, she just suffers in silence and takes the blame for all the things Janet is responsible for. And when Lorna finally stands up to Janet (or Janet realises she can’t get anything more out of the blackmail), she sets out to destroy Lorna altogether. Again, not an uncommon thing with spiteful girls in girls’ serials.

Part of the blackmail can be attributed to the miscalculation on the part of the Dawson parents. As they could not control their daughter they mistakenly hoped a new start might be the answer and sent Janet to her aunt’s. Of course they wouldn’t have known about a potential blackmail victim being there for Janet to take advantage of. But did it not occur to them that Janet might simply transfer her nasty behaviour to Kelbury? Clearly, what they should have done was send their uncontrollable daughter to a special school or similar institution for problem children before setting her out on any fresh starts.

Another source of blame is how the papers treated Mr Smith in the first place and turning the whole town against him and his family. Nothing had been proven against Mr Smith. No charges had been laid against him. As far as we can tell, the police aren’t bothering with Mr Smith and are trying to find the swindlers who vanished with the money. In law, Mr Smith is still innocent. So why has The Daily Times got Mr Smith’s photo plastered all over the front page like he was the mastermind of the swindle, and blackening his name and reputation when there was no proof against him? Why isn’t it the faces of those swindlers who have skedaddled with all the money and are now fugitives that must be found? Are the press making a scapegoat out of Mr Smith or something? Or is it guilt by association? Certainly, once Mr Smith was cleared he would have a case for a lawsuit against The Daily Times.

The Secret Servant: A Four Marys Story [1993]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #365

Artist: Jim Eldridge

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Simpy’s father opens a supermarket, Simco’s Supermarket, and its business is soon booming to soaring levels. But he only took a lease on the building. The freehold has been taken over by Lentham Holdings, which is run by – yes, Mabel Lentham’s father. Now Lentham is applying for planning permission to turn the building into flats. If this goes ahead Mr Simpson will be forced to close. This would bankrupt him as he has sunk everything into the supermarket.

Foolishly, Simpy hopes that if she sucks up to Mabel, such as buying her the birthday present she wanted and allowing her and Veronica on the gymnastics team although they aren’t much good at gymnastics but not yelling at Mabel when she makes a mess of things, Mabel will save her father. But once Mabel finds out the reason why Simpy is suddenly crawling to her (by prying into Simpy’s mail), she sets out to take full advantage of Simpy. She and Veronica have Simpy wait on them hand and foot and do all their dirty work, including prep. They waste no opportunities in bullying Simpy, such as making her do chores twice, in revenge for all the times the Four Marys have scored over them. Of course Mabel has no intention of saving Mr Simpson and is stringing Simpy along with false promises that she will speak to her father about it, but always seems to forget. Although Simpy does not trust Mabel, she still continues to slave for the snobs and hope Mabel will keep her end of the deal.

Of course the other Marys soon notice what’s going on between Simpy and the snobs. They get suspicious and start to investigate. Fieldy spies on the snobs’ study and sees how Simpy is waiting on the snobs while they bully her. They realise the snobs must have some kind of hold on Simpy. But they hit a dead end as to what it could be, and they decide against tackling Simpy outright.

Then, during a parents’ visiting day, Cotty accidentally overhears Simpy’s parents talking about their supermarket being in trouble. The Marys wonder if there is some connection with Simpy slaving for the snobs. On a free afternoon they head down to Simco’s Supermarket to investigate this angle.

Simco’s Supermarket is located in an arcade, which the Marys discover has been recently taken over by Mabel’s father. They soon learn that Lentham is forcing all the shops in the arcade out of business with exorbitant rents while terminating their leases. He is applying for planning permission to turn the arcade into flats so as to make a profit. It is later revealed that the flats project is intended to pay off loans. Lentham also plans to use the money for a world cruise family holiday, which Mabel is really looking forward to. The Marys draw all the right conclusions, including the one that Mabel will not really help Simpy save her father.

Then, a remark from Cotty about it being “such a lovely old arcade” gives Raddy an idea on how to solve the problem. She contacts her father, who works on a heritage committee that saves old buildings with historical value. The committee manages to get Lentham’s application for planning permission blocked. Now the flats plan is stymied, Lentham cannot afford to hold on to the arcade and is forced to sell at a rock bottom price. Mr Simpson is doing so well from the supermarket, he can afford to buy the freehold, become his own landlord, and save his business.

The Four Marys inform the snobs of this and punish them by tipping rubbish all over their study for them to clean up. Mabel is punished even more when she receives a call from her father that the world cruise holiday is off because the flats plan has failed. The Marys are delighted to hear this and treat Simpy to a celebratory tea.

Thoughts

Using false promises to help a loved one in order to blackmail a mug into doing what you want has been used in many DCT stories, such as “Meg and the Magic Robot” (Tracy) and “April Fool” (Mandy). However, it’s unusual in that it is the victim, Simpy who instigated her very own blackmail by sucking up to the snobs in the first place in the foolish hope they would save her father. Blackmailing Simpy wasn’t the snobs’ idea; they just take advantage once they realise why Simpy is being ‘nice’ to them all of a sudden. If it had been the snobs who had concocted the blackmail we would have been more sympathetic to Simpy. But really, Simpy brought the whole thing on herself. Honestly, she should have known better after the long time she had known those snobs, and how much they despise her for being a scholarship girl. Even when Simpy finds she doesn’t trust Mabel because Mabel is ‘forgetting’ her promises, she still doesn’t suspect the snobs are just taking advantage of her. She carries on regardless, hoping it will be worth it if it saves her father. Perhaps Simpy wasn’t thinking clearly because she was so worried about her parents and desperation overrode her rationality.

Ironically, slaving to the snobs does help save Simpy’s father, but not in the way she expected. It’s because it prompted the other Marys to make their inquiry at the arcade itself and, once they saw it personally, realise the heritage value that could save it. It is less likely this would have occurred if Simpy had just confided in the Marys.

The Boy Next Door [1989]

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

Plot

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

Boy next door1

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

Boy next door2

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

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

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

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

Boy next door5

Boy next door6

Thoughts

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

Boy next door3

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

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

Boy next door7

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

catch-the-cat-cover

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

catch-the-cat-logo

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.

catch-the-cat-3-jpg

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.

catch-the-cat-5a

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!

catch-the-cat-4a

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.

catch-the-cat-4a

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.

catch-the-cat-1a

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.

catch-the-cat-6a

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.

catch-the-cat-2a

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. 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:   #1491 (09 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

 

Bad Luck Barbara (1985) / Witch! (1991)

“Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy and “Witch!” from Bunty share the same premise, and also so many similarities and common threads that I am looking at them both together. In fact, I suspect it was the same writer. The two stories were published only six years apart, which makes it even more feasible.

Both stories revolve around a protagonist who is a newcomer to an English village that still believes in witches. In both cases the villagers persecute the new girl because they believe she is descended from the village witch, and the persecution becomes protracted because the parents do not realise what is going on. In the early episodes only one girl makes friends with the protagonist because she also originates outside the village and therefore does not share the villagers’ thinking. But then the friend turns on the protagonist and joins the campaign against her. Later the protagonist finds another friend, but again the witchcraft stigma drives them apart. In both stories there are incidents that have the protagonist herself wondering if she does in fact have powers that are working against the villagers. There are even strange occurrences that do suggest there is a genuine supernatural power at work from the alleged witch.

Bad Luck Barbara logo

Bad Luck Barbara

Published: Mandy #971 (24 August 1985) – #986 (7 December 1985)

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

After a long period of unemployment, Barbara Petty’s father finds a job as a farm manager in the village of Wavertree. He expects the family to do their bit to help his job succeed. But when Barbara’s neighbour Mary Weston hears what her surname is, she warns Barbara not to spread it around.

Bad Luck Barbara 1

Soon Barbara finds out why when she hears the story of Old Mother Petty. In 1590 the villagers cruelly harassed Old Mother Petty because they believed she was a witch who was causing waves of constant bad luck to strike Wavertree. When a lynch mob tried to drag Old Mother Petty away, she was pushed too far. She inserted her ladle into an oak tree and uttered a curse: whoever pulled it out would be the one to take her place, and wreak her revenge on all the villagers for their cruelty by inflicting even worse bad luck on them. Then she disappeared with a flash of lightning.

Barbara realises the villagers may connect her with Old Mother Petty because she has the same surname. She tries to disprove it by showing she cannot pull the ladle out – but she does! The villagers instantly believe that Barbara is the one to unleash Mother Petty’s revenge. The man who told Barbara the legend suddenly collapses and shouts that he is her first victim. The rumour gets even worse when Dad finds the ladle on his doorstep and nails it to the front door to be used as a pot plant holder, and all the villagers can see it there.

From then on, the villagers blame Barbara for anything bad that happens to them. In a lot of cases these are things that were their own fault (such as a family getting poisoned because they kept on using an unsafe well) or can be put down to simple explanations or coincidence. Barbara becomes increasingly ostracised and harassed everywhere. People whisper behind her back and children run away from her in terror. She hopes school will bring some respite as it is outside the village. But Barbara discovers village girls go there too and they spread rumours around, which get reinforced by more seeming bad luck and witchcraft. Before long Barbara gets the same abuse at school as well. She also loses Mary’s friendship after a trick from one of the bullies casts Barbara in a very bad light with her.

Bad Luck Barbara 4

Barbara soon finds there is no escaping the stigma; everywhere she turns, she comes up against tales and relics of Old Mother Petty, which further fuels the hostility against her. For example, Barbara takes up riding lessons with friendly Dixie Carter, who does not believe the superstition. But Barbara comes up against the story of Old Mother Petty putting a curse on all horses and their riders, which in the villagers’ eyes comes true when Dixie has an accident.

Barbara tries to tell her parents about the villagers’ hatred, but they just don’t get it. Not even when it stares at them in the face, such as when Mum gets abusive treatment from the grocer once he hears who she is. When Barbara tries to tell them how serious it is they are so dismissive, telling her she is being over-sensitive, that the villagers are just teasing her and such. Moreover, Dad’s job is just too important to them for them to even consider leaving Wavertree. At other times, Barbara tries to hide the truth from them to spare their feelings.

Bad Luck Barbara 2

Eventually Barbara is getting so down that she herself begins to wonder if she does have powers. She even starts wishing she did have some to teach the villagers a lesson. Then, that night she has a vision of Old Mother Petty, who says that Barbara really is her chosen one to wreak her revenge! Nightmare or what? Barbara does not know what to think.

The day after the nightmare, Dad announces that his boss is transferring him to a new job in Wales. So the parents take Barbara away from Wavertree at last, while still not understanding the situation or how serious it was. Barbara resolves to put Wavertree behind her – but of course she never wants to see it again – and look forward to her new life in Wales.

Bad Luck Barbara 6

But unknown to Barbara, the new owner of their old house takes a shine to the ladle while not knowing about its notoriety. Moreover, she feels an odd sense of belonging to the area. She and her husband are going to look for ancestors in Wavertree – and her maiden name is Petty….

 

Witch logo

Witch!

Bunty: 1744 (15 June 1991) – 1755 (31 August 1991)

Artist: Edmond Ripoll

Plot
Ellie Ross and her parents move to the village of Littledene, where Mr Ross’s ancestors originated. Ellie soon finds the villagers are a clannish lot who do not welcome strangers, and her only friend is Lynne Taylor, a newcomer who is likewise shunned. Ellie also befriends a cat that ran away from cruel owners, the Lawsons, and names him Lucas – the name just seemed to pop into her head. But Ellie finds the villagers are extraordinarily hostile towards her and cannot understand why.

Eventually Ellie and Lynne find out the reason: the villagers believe Ellie is descended from the village witch. Her name was Elizabeth Ross (Ellie’s full name), but the villagers call her Black Bess. Their belief that Ellie is descended from Black Bess is based on her having the same name, Lucas sharing the same name as Black Bess’s cat (oh dear, why did we see that coming?), Ellie’s resemblance to Black Bess (there are portraits available), and Ellie’s funky hairstyle is not helping matters either. And unfortunately, all evidence eventually does point to Black Bess being an ancestress of the Rosses.

Witch 1

Once Ellie fully understands the campaign against her, archenemies come out into the forefront. The ringleader is Fran Lister, a school bully whose father is a leading rich man in the community and has his eye on the Rosses’ property. The Lawson family are also frequent abusers. The campaign becomes protracted because Ellie cannot bring herself to tell her parents, who are so happy in Littledene.

Ellie starts some serious research into Black Bess. She learns that Black Bess was branded a witch because when she came to a place in Littledene called Manor House, animals and people started dying. But she finds out little more.

In addition to the campaign, strange things start happening to Ellie. She starts having inexplicable dreams and visions, often of stone-throwing mobs out to kill her. Other times she feels that someone else is speaking through her to threaten the villagers when they attack her – and then something happens to them, such as being attacked by seagulls and bees, falling down, or having accidents. At times Ellie feels she is hearing a voice and even multiple voices. Most often they are laughing or crying. Sometimes they sound sad and other times they egg her on to hurt her abusers when they torment. Because of this, Ellie begins to wonder if she does have genuine powers as strange things seem to happen when she is around. Lynne soon feels the same way and joins Fran in the campaign against Ellie.

Witch 4

Ellie finds another friend, Miss Black. But it turns out that Miss Black was also a victim of the villagers’ witch beliefs because she treats animals with herbal remedies. The villagers drove her out of Littledene, and when the bullies discover Ellie’s friendship with her, it all threatens to start up again. Miss Black tells Ellie she must not come back and urges her to get her parents to take her away. Ellie realises Miss Black is right, but still cannot bring herself to tell her parents.

When Fran harasses Ellie at school, Ellie tries to scare her off by pretending to be a witch. Then Ellie is startled to hear the voices in her head, which urge her to hurt Fran. Fran trips over her bag, hits her head and is put in hospital.

Of course the villagers blame Ellie for Fran’s accident, and they retaliate by vandalising Mrs Ross’s pottery workshop. However, not even this induces Ellie to tell her parents what is going on. Instead, she runs off to a nearby town. There she comes across a bookshop where the owner has acquired Black Bess’s journal. Ellie discovers that Black Bess’s family were wiped out by plague and she fled to relatives at Manor House. But apparently she brought the plague with her, which caused the animals and people to die. This led to the villagers branding her a witch and they persecuted her cruelly. The owner then tells Ellie that a stone-throwing mob chased Black Bess into the sea, where she drowned. He says that he will publish a newspaper article telling the truth about Black Bess.

But when Ellie returns home, she nearly meets the same fate as Black Bess when a lynch mob chases her all the way to the beach and tries to stone her. Only her mother’s phone call to the police saves her life. After this, Ellie finally tells her parents and they agree to take her away from Littledene.

Witch 6

Fran confesses to Ellie that her father put her up to leading the campaign because he wanted to get rid of the Rosses and turn their property into a petrol station. But now Mr Lister has discovered the house is listed, so “it was all for nothing – that’s the laugh”.

Unfortunately the newspaper article makes no difference to the villagers’ attitude. As Ellie and her parents depart, the villagers hurl abuse at her on all sides and make it plain that they hate her and Black Bess as much as ever. Ellie theorises that Bess was trying to clear her name through her, and hopes Bess does not try again with another newcomer.

Thoughts

Witch superstitions still linger in some parts of the English countryside, and this has formed the premise for a number of girls’ serials such as the two discussed above. In one variation of the theme, the girl has a genuine power or is in the grip of a malevolent force, which prompts the villagers into thinking she is a witch. One example of this is “The Revenge of Roxanne” from Suzy. In a less common variant, an animal is the victim of the villagers’ witch beliefs, such as the cat in Mandy’s “The Cat with 7 Toes”.

The premise did not appear much and I myself have not seen many serials that have it. But DCT must have had more. If anyone knows any examples besides the ones cited here, I would love to hear about them.

When comparing “Witch!” with “Bad-Luck Barbara”, the former seems to give the impression that it is a more advanced model on the latter. There are so many elements in “Bad Luck Barbara” that were confined to self-contained episodes, but in “Witch!” they are expanded to form parts of a story arc that carry through the entire serial. Three of these are discussed as follows.

Bad Luck Barbara 5

First is the ringleader of the witch-hunt. In “Bad Luck Barbara” there are no distinct ringleaders in the campaign. Some of the persecutors are named but none emerge as a definite ringleader or archenemy. For example, in one episode Barbara comes up against a girl called Wendy who pulls nasty tricks to stir up the villagers against her because she wanted to get rid of the Pettys so her father could take Mr Petty’s job. Wendy had potential to be expanded further over many more episodes and become a major villain. Instead, she only lasts one episode – and it is the penultimate episode too. In contrast, Fran Lister, who is Wendy’s counterpart in “Witch!”, is a rounded villain who plays a huge role in the development of the plot and the campaign against Ellie. And like Wendy, Fran is only in it for her father’s personal gain. Unlike Wendy or any of the other witch hunters, Fran is the only one with any redeeming qualities, which come out when she confesses and apologises to Ellie.

Second is the cat that befriends the protagonist. Lucas’ counterpart in “Bad Luck Barbara” is a cat called Sooty, which the villagers brand as Barbara’s familiar because he looks like a witch’s cat. Sooty only lasts one episode as well; Barbara has to quickly find another home for him after the villagers try to kill him. But while Sooty appears in just one episode, his counterpart in “Witch!” is expanded into a character that goes for the duration of the serial, and sharing the hatred and abuse Ellie suffers from the villagers.

Witch 3

Third are the strange visions that both protagonists have. In “Bad Luck Barbara” the vision of Old Mother Petty does not appear until the final episode, when the protagonist finally begins to wonder if she does have strange powers. But in “Witch!” the odd visions and dreams start from the beginning. They begin on a pretty small scale but seem to get stronger as the persecution develops, while still remaining indistinct and their motives indiscernible. Are they trying to warn Ellie of the danger? A lot of the visions and nightmares do centre on stone-throwing mobs out for blood. Are they trying to protect Ellie from the villagers’ attacks or helping her inflict revenge for them? After all, Ellie only gets a strange voice speaking through her and then something happening when someone attacks her. The strange voices never direct any malevolence towards an innocent person. Or was Ellie’s conclusion about Black Bess trying to clear her name the correct one? And Ellie did feel oddly drawn to the bookshop where the owner had just acquired Black Bess’s journal. Was it gut feeling or was it guidance from the strange forces? Were the strange things that happened to Ellie some combination of the above? Or were there more simple explanations, such as a medical condition?

Witch 2

Let us assume for the moment that Black Bess and Old Mother Petty were unleashing some genuine supernatural forces from beyond the grave. However, it is still hard to gauge as to whether Black Bess or Old Mother Petty were downright evil. After all, Old Mother Petty’s alleged curse of revenge was retaliation for the villagers constantly persecuting her. And she set her curse on horses for the same reason – because a horseman assaulted and bullied her. There is no way of telling whether Old Mother Petty was actually working some kind of black magic against the villagers or if she was just a scapegoat for bad things happening, the same way Barbara was, and shouted curses back at the villagers in anger.

Secretly, we do laud Old Mother Petty for striking back at the witch hunters and escaping their clutches. More often such victims end up like Black Bess. Incidentally, the circumstances of how Old Mother Petty was branded a witch are not unlike how real-life witchcraft accusations worked in the English countryside.

Black Bess is kept more mysterious and ambiguous than Old Mother Petty (no flashbacks or visions of her, as there are of Old Mother Petty), so it is more difficult to judge her motives. They could have been anything from protecting Ellie to wanting revenge. But it cannot be said with certainty that her motives were evil. A lot of this ambiguity is related to how Black Bess was established in the story. In “Bad Luck Barbara”, the story of Old Mother Petty, the villagers branding Barbara her successor, and Barbara understanding why the villagers hate her are all set up in the first episode. In “Witch!”, the establishment is built up over several episodes. Black Bess is not introduced until episode three, and until then Ellie cannot comprehend why the villagers seem to hate her. Throughout the story, the backstory of Black Bess is not revealed until the last episode. Until then, readers and Ellie are left with a mystery surrounding Black Bess. And even after the truth is revealed, Bess’s motives are still hard to discern.

Witch 5

Both stories end realistically. In several other stories that follow the premise, the protagonist proves to the villagers she is not evil when she performs an act of heroism, and they welcome her with open arms, flowers and apologies. This is how “The Cat with 7 Toes” and Jinty’s “Wenna the Witch” and “Mark of the Witch!” are resolved. Unfortunately that is not how it really works with people who believe in witches. Once they brand someone a witch, the label sticks. Nothing can shift it and it lasts for generations. And both “Bad Luck Barbara” and “Witch!” acknowledge this sad fact. “Bad Luck Barbara” makes this particularly clear in one episode, where Barbara does save a child’s life. But instead of the villagers realising she is a good person and accepting her, their witch-beliefs twist it all around to reinforce the notion that she is a witch. This incident proves once and for all to Barbara that she just can’t win with them and there is nothing she can do to change their attitude. Leaving the village is the only option, and even then the villagers make it clear that their hatred of the protagonist will persist long after she is dead. There are no ridiculous happy endings with the protagonist proving her goodness and the witch-believers accepting her at long last. In fact, both stories end on ominous hints that other unsuspecting newcomers may also fall victim to the same witch beliefs.

The stories do differ somewhat in their resolutions. Although both stories end with the parents taking their daughters away, their reasons for doing so are quite different. In “Witch!”, the parents eventually find out what is going on and remove Ellie accordingly. Still, in that instance the parents do have to find out because Ellie just won’t tell them. In “Bad Luck Barbara” the parents never find out, which is quite annoying and even distasteful. They only take Barbara away because Dad gets a job transfer to Wales. It would have redeemed the thoughtless parents considerably to finally get the message instead of belittling it all when Barbara tries to tell them.

Bad Luck Barbara 3

Maybe part of the Petty parents never finding out was that the Wavertree villagers never got quite as violent as their Littledene counterparts. Ellie is subject to several attacks that could have killed her before the stone-throwing mob in the final episode. Barbara is threatened with a lynch mob in one episode but manages to scare them off. When Ellie departs, the villagers hurl blatant abuse at her that horrifies her parents. If their Wavertree counterparts had done that when the Pettys departed, not even those thickheaded parents could have been so dismissive of it. Instead, the Wavertree villagers express their hatred in a more restrained way: silent glares, muttering, and throwing the odd stone. So while Barbara can see their hatred, the parents remain oblivious to it.

There have been several stories like these where the story leaves the reader to judge whether the protagonist does have strange powers or whether the things superstitious fools and bullies accuse her of are just accidents, fate, coincidence, Law of Attraction, autosuggestion or whatever. These are questions the protagonist herself begins to wonder as she discovers the brainwashing effect of the constant accusations of witchcraft. They can really get to her and she starts to think that she does in fact have strange powers. She may even wish for some so she can get real revenge on the cruel villagers. This happens to both Ellie and Barbara, and they have to fight hard to shake the idea out of their heads. Readers are left to draw their own conclusions. My own response is always the same: it does not matter because either way, you burn!

I’ll Get Rid of Rona! (1980)

I'll Get Rid of Rona logo

Published: Tracy: #43 (26 July 1980) to #53 (04 October 1980)

Artist: Unknown

Plot

Two years previously Orphan Rona Parrish had been very happy at Sunnyhills Children’s Home until she was wrongly convicted of theft (the exact circumstances of which are not discussed). Since then, she had been forced to move from children’s home to children’s home and from school to school as the stigma follows her around and people provoke her into “rebellious behaviour” when they bully her over her record. Currently these are the girls at her latest school. They call her a borstal brat, accuse her of stealing their belongings and such, and provoke her into lashing out at them. The lashing out keeps getting Rona  into trouble with the school authorities. The matron of Rona’s current home knows what is going on, but her advice to try to ignore the teasing is not very helpful.

Rona 1

When the girls’ bullying gets Rona suspended, Matron and a social worker named Miss Gregory come up with the idea of fostering Rona out to the Marchant family, in the hope that a fresh start in a locality where nobody knows her past will help. Rona jumps at it. The Marchant parents are very understanding about Rona’s past and agree not to tell their daughter Gwen or even the staff at the new school about it. When Rona arrives, she gets the immediate impression she will be happy at the Marchants’ home.

But already forces are working against Rona. Gwen seems friendly enough to Rona, but in secret she resents having a “strange brat” for a sister. And when she snoops into a confidential letter from Miss Gregory and discovers Rona’s secret, she decides it’s the limit. She sets out to get rid of Rona, figuring that Rona’s record will make it easier.

At home Gwen pulls discreet but dirty tricks to give her parents the impression that Rona is careless, untrustworthy and things always seem to get lost or stolen around her. She also gets Rona into trouble in public incidents, such as hooliganism and stealing on a paper round. At school, where Gwen has to say that Rona is her cousin from Canada, Gwen pilfers items from classmates with the intention of putting the blame on Rona when she is ready. This soon has everyone on the alert for a thief at school. Gwen is pleased to hear the other girls whispering that they suspect Rona is the thief and not Gwen’s cousin from Canada either. When Mrs Marchant hears about the thieving at school she also begins to suspect Rona, much to Gwen’s delight.

Rona 2

Things get worse for Rona when Peggy Malone joins the school. She is a delinquent and a troublemaker, and everyone soon realises she is a girl to avoid. Peggy also knows Rona’s secret because they were at the same remand home together while Rona was awaiting trial. Peggy starts blackmailing Rona, forcing her to do her homework, buy her cigarettes, do after-school work for her and be her “friend”, which makes Rona unpopular with the other girls. Gwen discovers that Peggy has a hold over Rona and decides to enlist Peggy’s help in getting rid of her.

So through Peggy, Gwen tricks Rona into selling Peggy’s aunt’s jewels and make it look like she stole them. Peggy had agreed to Gwen’s plan in anticipation that she would get money from the sale. But the jeweller gets suspicious and calls the police. The police and Miss Gregory are called in. Rona realises too late that Peggy tricked her while the police think that Rona and Peggy are in it together. However, Gwen’s plan has misfired a bit as she thought the jeweller would call her parents instead of the police, and as there has been no sale she has no money to pay Peggy with. So Gwen gives Peggy her Post Office savings instead, on condition that Peggy disappears without telling on her. The police find out about Peggy running off, which does make her look guilty, and Peggy can’t be questioned over the matter. Things now look even blacker for Rona.

Rona 5

Gwen has been keeping the items she stole from school in her Box of Secrets. She gloats over them, thinking she won’t have a foster sister much longer. But the police start a search for the stolen items at the Marchants’ home before Gwen realised what they were looking for. This means she did not get the chance to plant them on Rona; they are still in the Box of Secrets. The police find the box and insist on taking a look inside. Gwen tries to stop them by throwing the key out the window, but Dad gets his toolbox to force it open (can’t the police pick the lock?). They find not only the stolen items but also Gwen’s diary – which has all the details of her scheming against Rona and consorting with Peggy.

Rona panel 3

The subsequent fates of Peggy and Gwen are not recorded. Presumably they include expulsion and criminal charges.

The Marchants hope Rona will still stay with them, but she declines because she would never be able to forget what Gwen did. So Gwen does succeed in getting rid of Rona, who goes to stay with Miss Gregory while a new start is worked out. Then a letter arrives from Sunnyhills, which says Rona’s name has been cleared as another girl has confessed to the crime she was convicted of (rather belated, as it is two years after the event). Rona is free to return to Sunnyhills, and is thrilled to do so. When she arrives she gets a huge welcome from all the other children in the home.

Thoughts

Stories of spiteful girls who play dirty tricks to get rid of a foster girl/cousin because they are jealous, resentful or don’t want to share have been churned out in quantity at DCT. Examples include “The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina/The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee” (Mandy), “What Lila Wants…” (M&J) and “Sharing with Sonia” (Bunty).

It is unusual, though, to combine the “spiteful foster sister/cousin” premise with the blackmailer premise. Rona has not just one but two enemies working against her – one to get rid of her and one to blackmail her. And then they combine forces against her! Having both a schemer and a blackmailer against Rona puts her through far more than what a protagonist would usually go through with either premise. Added to that, Rona has had a hard time for two years, what with being wrongly convicted and then being bullied over it, which nearly gets her unfairly expelled at her old school – more injustice! Throwing the wrongful conviction premise into the mix as well certainly makes the story a far more gripping one than it would be if it was just a routine “spiteful stepsister/cousin” story.

Rona

The matron and the headmistress at Rona’s old locality must take some of the blame Rona’s “rebellious” behaviour for handling the situation badly and not taking action to stop the bullying that provokes it. Matron knows about it, but just gives Rona unhelpful advice. She does not speak up for Rona at the school and tell the headmistress to sort out the bullies. But at least the decision to get Rona away from it all in foster care was an inspired one, and would have worked out brilliantly if it hadn’t been for Gwen and Peggy. It is a bit strange that Rona stands up to the bullies at school (albeit in an aggressive manner that gets her into constant trouble) but does not stand up to Peggy at all. When Rona is caught with the jewels, she does not even try to explain about the blackmail to Miss Gregory, who knows what Peggy is like because she is on her case files.

The Marchant parents must take some of the blame for Gwen’s resentment of Rona. The fact that Gwen felt they foisted Rona onto her does suggest they did not consult Gwen or consider her feelings as much as they could have. And having Gwen tell everyone at school that Rona is her cousin from Canada is totally unfair, because that is asking both her and Rona to live a lie. And how long would it be before someone sees through that lie anyway? Surely it would have been quite sufficient and honest enough to just say that Rona is a foster sister.

Rona 6

But the fact remains that Gwen was not only spiteful but hypocritical too. She secretly riles against having a “thief” for a foster sister, yet she becomes a thief herself in her scheming against Rona, consorts with a criminal, and has no compunction or guilt about it. When she is caught out, she merely looks furious. There are no tears or shame at all. So it is not surprising and completely realistic that Rona chooses not to stay after she discovers Gwen’s plotting. So many “spiteful stepsister/cousin” stories have ended with the troublemaker being glibly forgiven and becoming best friends with the girl she tried to get rid of (e.g. Mandy’s “That Bad Bettina!”). Still, those were cases where the troublemaker did repent, whereas Gwen did not.

The sudden confession from the true thief at the end comes across as a bit contrived and too convenient. It has been two years since the crime and the thief did nothing to clear Rona in all that time – but now, all of a sudden, she does. Still, we must have a happy ending all round.