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Misty Short Stories III: Witches

For the third volume of Misty Short stories I have selected Misty stories with a corresponding theme: witchcraft and how Misty portrayed witches in her complete stories. As many of the stories have a similar theme, they have been grouped together under subheadings, with “thoughts” attached. I have also included closing thoughts at the end of the overview. Text stories have been omitted from this list. So witch-themed text stories such as “The Story of Little Wytching” have been excluded.

1: The Wise Woman

The true definition of “witch” is wise woman, a person who would use folk magic and herbal knowledge to help people. But witch-believers did not always see it that way and wise women were always vulnerable to being persecuted as agents of Satan. As the following stories show, Misty had the sense to frequently show the witch as she really was: a wise woman. However, they also show that how the wise woman’s help was received, or even understood, depended very much on how much the protagonist needed – or deserved – her help.

Bookworm

Misty: #99

Artist: Jordi Badia Romero

Reprints: Scream & Misty Halloween Special #2

Joanie Preston is a bookworm, but also a selfish, lazy girl. She wants to live the life of Lady Agatha in a book she is reading, where she can live in ease and comfort and never have to work. She finds a spellbook in Professor Margolis’ collection of forbidden books. She bullies Old Nell, who has a reputation for witchcraft, into helping her cast one of the spells to transport her into the Lady Agatha book. She ignores Old Nell’s warnings that it is evil black magic and can only bring disaster. While Joanie is casting the spell the Professor finds out and tries to intervene. This causes Joanie to take the wrong book into the magic circle – and its title is “Dracula”.

Thoughts

It is curious that although Old Nell warns Joanie that using the black magic will lead to catastrophe, what really causes Joanie’s undoing is her accidentally taking the wrong book into the magic circle. The danger of using black magic might have been more effective if Joanie had gone into  the Lady Agatha book after all, only to find it’s not what she expected – a monkey’s paw sort of thing.

If Only…

Misty: #51

Artist: Carlos Guirado

Poor girl Lois is jealous of rich, spoiled girl Kora, so she visits a witch, Widow Farley. Farley agrees to help because Kora is a girl after her own black heart and Lois deserves the spell.  The spell has Lois and Kora switch bodies. Then Lois finds out too late what Farley really meant by her deserving the spell: Kora was dying, and this is why she was spoiled.

Thoughts

We are told that Widow Farley is a more black-hearted wise woman than the other examples below, but it gets no development. The story would have been fine to leave that part out and have Widow Farley give Lois the spell just to punish her for her jealousy.

Aunt Mary’s Blessing

Misty: #21

Artist: Uncertain

Dying – and creepy – Aunt Mary tells Melody that she has Romany powers, which include precognition, and Melody is to inherit the art. Melody does not want any part of it. After her death, Aunt Mary appears as a ghost to Melody and tells her where to find the box that contains her inheritance. Sensing what is happening, Mum gives Melody a crucifix for protection but a teacher confiscates it. Aunt Mary draws Melody to her house and directs her to dig up a box, which contains a hand. As the hand touches Mary left hand, it crumbles into dust, and Aunt Mary tells Melody she will not see her again. Later, Melody has a premonition that her hospitalised father will be okay, but inwardly adds, while looking at her left hand: “But will I?”

Thoughts

So Melody is fated to inherit Aunt Mary’s powers. But are these powers really evil or is it just a case of people being afraid of something they don’t understand? Aunt Mary sure is creepy, but is she evil? And would Melody inheriting the powers make her evil? Or will Melody find it a great gift that she learns to accept and love? The title does say Aunt Mary’s inheritance is a “blessing” after all.

A Girl’s Best Friend

Misty: #48

Artist: John Richardson

Reprint: as Carla’s Best Friend in Tammy 15 January 1983

Blind Carla and her guide dog meet Old Greta. They are kind to Greta while others avoid her because she says she is a witch. That night Belle slips out to Greta’s house, and Greta realises why Belle has come. Next morning, Carla is astonished and overjoyed to find she has suddenly regained her sight, but then realises Belle is missing. Greta explains that she did use a spell to restore Carla’s sight, but for it to work, someone else has to give up his or her sight in return. Belle made the choice to do so, and now she is blind. Shocked to see Belle blind in her stead, Carla begs Greta to reverse the spell. Greta says Belle will still have a good life as long as Carla reciprocates the love and affection Belle showed her when she was blind. Carla hugs Belle and promises her all the love in the world forever.

Thoughts

This is one of Misty’s most brilliant and moving short stories. Carla regains her sight with the help of the witch, but it’s not a happy ending. It’s a bittersweet ending that leaves us all in tears when we learn the price that has been paid for Carla’s new sight. We cry even more when we learn Belle will stay blind, and will need all the love and help she can get.

The Queen’s Hair

Misty: #43

Artist: Jaume Rumeu

Reprint: Best of Misty 4

Tyrannical Queen Elida administers cruel justice to her subjects and throws them in her dungeons. The real reason for this is that she blames them for an illness that caused her hair to fall out and she has to wear wigs. Elida strikes a bargain with a witch for a spell for new hair. The witch gives Elida a headband that will make her hair grow again, but she must not wear it for more than 24 hours. Elida reneges on the deal and throws the witch into her infamous dungeon.

Although Elida does grow new hair she does not forgive, and she leaves her prisoners in the dungeons to rot while she throws a celebration. But then Elida’s hair starts growing crazily and uncontrollably. She realises it’s because she forgot to remove the headband after 24 hours (we thought that might happen). Elida soon finds there is no way of stopping the super-growing hair or removing the headband. The witch can’t help as she died in Elida’s freezing dungeons. Elida’s angry subjects seize the moment to storm the castle, rescue the prisoners, and exact revenge on Elida. But they find there is no need for revenge because the hair is now engulfing the whole castle and bringing Elida down with it.

Thoughts

As with Old Greta, the witch is the helper. But the witch would have really been able to help Elida if she hadn’t been beyond helping. Growing her hair back was not enough to help Elida. She had grown so cruel and selfish that she was totally beyond redemption, and she was given a chance to redeem herself. Plus she reneged on her bargain with the witch, which was really asking for trouble. We can’t help but wonder if the witch caused Elida to forget to remove the headband in time and it was she who engineered her own death in the dungeons, rather than the cold.

Ashamed of Her Mum [1986]

Published: Debbie PSL #100

Reprint: Bunty PSL #418 as “Trapped!”

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); Ron Lumsden (story)

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Thirteen-year-old Meg Ferns and her widowed mother have just moved to Redport. At her new school, Meg is impressed with the looks of Arlene Ainsley and her gang and wants to be friends with them. But when she tries, she finds out they are snobs and they don’t think she’s good enough for them.

Moira Samson does offer to be friends with Meg, but Meg declines as she still wants to get in with the Ainsley gang and they wouldn’t like Moira, whose background is not good enough for them either. When Meg sees Arlene’s glamorous mother she wishes her mother were like that instead of being in a factory job and doing nothing but housework when she comes home.

In town, Meg sees a glamorous model at a shoot and learns her name is Lillian Ferns – the same surname as hers. She thinks it would be so marvellous if Lillian were her mother. The snobs come along, talking about the same model. Before she knows what she is saying, Meg brags to them that the model is her mother. The snobs fall for it – except one, Priscilla. The other snobs are all over Meg now, but Priscilla means to investigate Meg’s claims.

So the double life of deception and its complications begin for Meg. And although she does not know it (yet) she has the added handicap of one girl being on to her from the start and determined to catch her out. Priscilla starts by checking out Lillian’s address (and Meg realises that’s more than she did) and having Meg invite them over to her “mum’s” house. At the house she convinces them that “Mum’s” not in, but she sees Priscilla hanging around to see if she does enter the house and realises Priscilla is suspicious. Seeing a key in the door, Meg takes advantage to enter the house, pretend she’s coming home, and hopefully throw Priscilla off the scent.

At this point Lillian catches Meg. Meg blurts out the whole story. Realising how desperate Meg is to keep those snobs from finding out, Lillian proceeds to take full advantage. She agrees to help with the pretence – on one condition. As Lillian has no housekeeper at the moment, Meg is to become her housekeeping slave, and without one penny in payment. It also means getting up extra early, dashing twelve miles to serve breakfast and back to school, back again at four for chores, back at any time Lillian wants her, do any catering she wants, etc, etc, … otherwise, she will tell those snobs the truth. And there is a verbal earbashing whenever Meg doesn’t do the job right. Er, what was that you said about it being so marvellous if Lillian were your Mum, Meg?

Of course this is soon causing difficulties, such as Meg getting lines for being late for school. But Meg is gaining in confidence because she is getting it so good for the Arlene gang and thinks she is real friends with them now. She throws a scare into Priscilla to hopefully throw her off, but Priscilla only pretends that it worked. Moira also warns Meg to be careful about getting on the wrong side of that snobby lot, but Meg doesn’t listen.

As Lillian has given Meg her house key for the chores, Meg has full access to the house to show it off to the snobs while Lillian is out. They lap up all the luxuries it offers. Priscilla takes advantage to do some snooping. As she suspected, she finds no photographs of Meg in the house or any bedroom that looks like hers. She also helps herself to the food Lillian laid out for the party she is going to hold that night. When Lillian finds out about the food, she is absolutely furious with Meg.

At the party Meg has to do all the waitressing. Ironically, one guest, Mr Tolman, comments that she looks photogenic and should consider modelling herself. Meg also spots Priscilla spying outside and rushes to close the curtains in an awful hurry. The trouble is, Lillian pulls them in the opposite direction, which causes the whole thing to come crashing down. Lillian really blows her top at Meg because she wanted to impress Mr Tolman as he owns the advertising company she wants to work for. Meg is also worried about what Priscilla will say the following day.

Next day at school, Priscilla laughs at Meg for dressing as a waitress and “curtain calls”. Meg manages to pass off the waitressing as a punishment for the food Priscilla scoffed, and kindly stop snooping. This makes Priscilla unpopular with the other snobs and Meg thinks she is now safe from her. Meg’s an even bigger hero than ever with them now, especially with Arlene. It now looks like all that slaving for Lillian is worthwhile. However, Priscilla is not only still suspicious but also upset that Meg has pushed her out and wants revenge.

Meg has another close call when Mum waves to her across the street and the Arlene gang comment on how common she looks. They buy Meg’s cover story that she’s the cleaning lady – except Priscilla, who notices that “the char” bears a strong resemblance to Meg and begins to put two and two together.

The same incident has Meg beginning to feel ashamed of the way she is treating her mother because of this deception. For the same reason she begins to get closer to Moira. But the gang warn Meg they will no longer be friends with her if she continues with “peasants” like Moira. At this, Meg realises how wrong she had been to bother with those snobs at all.

So Meg decides to end her deception, starting with revenge on Lillian. Meg tells Lillian she’s had enough of her and then heaves a bucket of dirty scrubbing water all over her. She hears with great satisfaction that she has ruined Lillian’s new Paris outfit, and then walks out.

Next day at school, Meg finds out she ended her deception at just the right time – the game is up anyway. Priscilla snooped into the school records, found Meg’s real address and her mother’s occupation, and has now informed the others. They are ready to confront her, but Meg stands up to them. Moira sees the commotion and rouses a prefect, who tells the snobs to clear off. Meg explains how it was really her fault to start with, but what makes her really ashamed over it all was how she let her mother down. The prefect tells Meg not to worry about that; she’s learned her lesson. Moira’s offer for friendship is still open, and this time Meg accepts.

Remembering how photogenic Meg looked, Mr Tolman tracks her down and gives her a job in TV adverts. Everyone is pleased for Meg – except for certain snobs who are green with envy.

Thoughts

There have been plenty of stories where protagonists run a double life, pretending their backgrounds are grander than they really are, all because of a bunch of snobs. Inevitably the deception gets complicated and there is no way they can keep it up indefinitely. The question is what will happen when the inevitable does happen. “Pop Starr” from Bunty is one example.

It’s unusual to have one girl suspicious of the deception from the start. Usually in these types of stories someone grows suspicious over time. That or the protagonist just gets caught right out. Perhaps it was the 62-page limit, which did not allow for one of the snobs to become suspicious over time. However, it does make the story even more exciting and different, having someone onto the protagonist from the very start. And Meg is quick to realise Priscilla suspects her, which sets a very exciting premise for keeping one step ahead. Meg soon proves she can do it very aptly, and is very deft at thinking quickly to get out things if those snobs get too close and foiling Priscilla’s attempts to catch her out. Unfortunately for Meg, she cannot get Priscilla off her back entirely, especially when Priscilla gets vengeful.

This deception story has the Cinderella and blackmail themes thrown into the mix as well, which makes it even more striking and interesting than a mere string of lies, close calls and complications as the deception snowballs and the protagonist falls deeper and deeper into a sticky web of deceit. The true real-life personality of the glamorous model Lillian Ferns is there to teach Meg to appreciate what she’s got in her own mother and being rich and famous does not necessarily mean an improvement. The lesson is slow in coming, though. It takes Meg’s treatment of her mother as part of her deception to make the lesson sink in.

There are always prices the protagonist has to pay while carrying out her deception. Meg’s biggest one is becoming an unpaid slave to Lillian Ferns. Lillian Ferns comes from another popular theme in girls’ comics: a famous celebrity who is in fact a nasty piece of work in real life. “Aunt Aggie” (Tammy) and “Everyone’s Perfect Mum” (Mandy) are other examples. Not to mention using blackmail to turn the protagonist into their slave, and there are countless examples of that in girls’ comics. It is obvious that Lillian’s treatment of Meg stems from her being tight-fisted, not to mention being a bully and bad employer. She can well afford a housekeeper instead of using Meg as unpaid help, and pay Meg well for what she’s doing. But she does neither. We bet the reason Lillian doesn’t have a housekeeper is that the last one quit because Lillian was just as horrible to her. It would not be surprising if quite a few housekeepers had quit Lillian’s employment already and she’s now on a number of blacklists at employment agencies. With any luck the real-life Lillian will be found out and it won’t just be her new outfit that gets ruined. Lillian’s treatment of Meg has already ruined her chances with Mr Tolman and even got the job in Lillian’s place. Lillian will be absolutely fuming when she finds out. And the irony is, it’s all her own fault because of the way she treated Meg.

There are a few ironies too, in the way Meg develops through her deception. For example, Meg becomes accepted by the snob gang she finds her confidence growing, but in the wrong way. Her true confidence comes when she decides she’s had enough of Lillian and stands up to her. And heaving that bucket of water in Lillian’s face is absolutely priceless! We don’t often see protagonists in blackmail stories turning around and getting their own back on their blackmailers, so we just love seeing it here. Meg also develops quick wits and thinking on her feet in the way she can pull herself out of those sticky situations she get herself into.

We reckon that if the snobs had not found Meg out she would have told them anyway, and tell them to sod their stuck-up ways too. Which is of course what she should have done in the first place when the Arlene gang turned her down because they were so stuck up. But instead she wants to continue pursuing them despite their snobby rudeness to her. Even then she can see there is a good friend waiting in Moira, but keeps throwing it away because she is wasting time and energy trying to get in good with those snobs.

Silver linings do come out of the clouds in this story. As well as becoming more mature, confident and learning what true friends are made of, Meg also gets a glamorous job and possible future career out of it all. So life will become a lot better for Meg and her mother. And we can just see Lillian’s face when she finds out about Meg’s job.

I Don’t Want to Be a Model! [1984]

Plot

Roslyn Grant is taken in by Gerda Grayson, a (so-called) friend of her mother’s while her mother is away. Grayson abuses Rosyln into becoming a model and holds her prisoner by removing her glasses so Roslyn can’t see properly, and takes her out of school. When Roslyn tries to run away, she is caught, and the label of runaway gives Grayson even more blackmail power over Roslyn. Eventually Roslyn learns that Grayson’s cruelty is due to a long-standing jealousy she has held against her mother ever since their school days, and Grayson has a long record of bullying.

Notes

  • Artist: Rodney Sutton

Appeared

  • I Don’t Want to Be a Model! – Tracy: #235 (31 March 1984) – #243 (26 May 1984)

 

 

Minnie the Meanie [1982]

We’re heading towards that time of year to be extra-generous to people while spending up large on gifts, holidays and other treats. But here’s a cautionary tale from Judy not to take either one to extremes. The consequences can be just as damaging as for the other extreme that we always hear about at Christmas – Scrooge. As the parents in this story found out, not even a pools win is a limitless amount of money for spending.

Published: Judy: #1153 (13 February 1982) to #1166 (15 May 1982)
Reprinted – Judy: #1564 (30 December 1989) to #1577 (31 March 1990)

Episodes: 14

Artist: Unknown artist – “Merry”

Writer: Unknown. Possibly the same writer as “Hard Times for Helen

Plot

Minnie Mill and her family live in a shabby house in Badger Street. Then they win £300,000 on the pools.

Unfortunately Mum and Dad let the whole new flush of money go to their heads and turn into super-spendthrifts. They go crazy on buying new things right, left and centre. They treat the money as if it will never cease to end and begin to lose the meaning of its value. For example, when Dad receives a letter saying there’s a back payment from his old company he scorns it because it seems like chickenfeed to what he has now and can’t be bothered collecting it. Minnie is horrified at his attitude, and she collects it herself because someone around here has to be sensible. They give no thought to investment or long-term planning at all, despite the offer – and warning – from the pools representative.

The worst of it is that Mum is a good-natured woman with a heart of gold, so it is an all-too-easy matter for the money to turn her generosity into over-generosity. Dad is just the same. And Minnie is quick to realise why the residents of Badger Street who previously took little notice of them are suddenly crowding around to be nice and friendly – they are out to take advantage of the money and the parents’ generosity. Dad soon has a well-earned reputation for spending and giving away huge handfuls of money as if it were nothing and people say he’ll give away his last penny.

Minnie is also finding that kids are taking advantage of her as well and pretending to be friendly while finding ways to cheat her out of huge sums of money. Several of these tactics are really despicable. For example, one girl, Gladdie, appears to be genuine, so Minnie trusts her with £600 to pay her mother’s rent with. When she discovers the money has in fact gone into Gladdie’s bank account, she orders her to pay the money to charity – or else. Another girl, Ida, cons Minnie out of money that was supposed to go on replenishing her grandmother’s empty coal cellar. When Minnie finds out, she helps to replenish the cellar secretly. Even a girl who is far richer than Minnie cheats her out of money.

Minnie reckons she has no friends anymore; the ones she had have joined the bullies who shout “Minnie the Meanie!” at her. Only one girl, Rosie, seems to be a friend. But by now Minnie has been so badly burned she just can’t trust anyone.

Because of all this cadging and cheating, Minnie becomes afraid to display her generosity openly and with the gay abandon that the parents do. She resorts to doing it in secret, and where she sees it is going to a genuine cause, such as replenishing the grandmother’s coal supply or getting treatment for a sick dog.

Minnie also starts saving any money she can get her hands on (including Dad’s unwanted back payment) because she realises their money will run out because of their careless spending, and a reserve will be required for when this happens. This and not displaying her generosity openly give the impression that she is turning into a miser, a reputation she believes she must cultivate in order to protect her parents’ money as best she can. The people of Badger Street start to bully and jeer at her, calling her “Minnie the Meanie!” in the street. This causes misunderstandings with her parents, who think she is turning into a miser too. So they don’t listen when she tries to tell them that people are taking advantage of them. They just brush it off because they have lots of money anyway, so what’s the big deal?

At first the parents dismiss warning signs that they are spending too much. Dad laughs and says there’s still plenty left. They buy over a house next door (and make an overinflated offer for it!) so they can add it to their own and develop their residence in accordance with how they are rising up the social scale. Once the redevelopment is complete, Mum throws out the furnishings they only just bought when the money first arrived and buys whole new ones!

Ironically, the parents don’t even approve of Minnie saving money instead of spending it as they do and think it’s just more of her miserliness. This attitude gets really bizarre. For example, when they find out what Minnie did with the back payment, what angers them is that she saved the money instead of spending it! They are far less bothered about her taking the money herself.

Minnie’s saving causes other problems too. For example, she goes on a shopping spree, and then returns the gifts for money, which gets banked. Nasty Ella Stevens finds out and starts blackmailing her. To get Ella off her back, Minnie tells the folks herself. She then teaches Ella a lesson by compelling her to donate £20 to the Youth Club Roof Fund.

One day Dad comes in looking awfully worried. He does not say what is wrong, but Minnie guesses that Dad is paying more heed to warning signals that the money is running out. Indeed, he now becomes more wary about spending money. Strangely, Dad would still much rather have Minnie spending than saving, which she steps up of course. Meanwhile, Mum pays no attention and continues with heedless spending.

Dad getting worried about the spending prompts nasty gossip from the neighbours that the parents are getting as mean as Minnie. Despite Minnie’s protests not to give in to such bullying, Mum tries to stop the gossip by lavishing even more generosity on them.

One of the worst cases of this is when Mum takes the residents of Badger Street on an outing that includes a funfair and an expensive lunch. Dad joins in Minnie’s protests that they are spending far more than necessary on the trip, what with buying snacks for the residents on top of the lunch and giving them all spending money at the fair. Mum just tells him that he’s getting as bad as Minnie and he gives in to keep the peace. Minnie secretly cancels the lunch and temporarily hides Dad’s wallet so he can’t treat the residents elsewhere, hoping their reaction will make the parents see sense. Their reaction is to accuse the parents of pulling cheap tricks despite the other treats they provided, stalk off to find a cuppa without including the Mills, and they show they care more about a free lunch than Dad getting his wallet nicked. Dad is outraged and disgusted at this, while Mum does not open her eyes at all. However, Minnie has new hope that Dad is beginning to see things her way.

Indeed, Dad starts quarrelling with Mum over her overspending while she says he’s just a big meanie like Minnie. Minnie cannot reason with her either. Dad groans when the latest bank statement arrives, and Minnie can guess why.

All too soon the inevitable happens because of Mum’s overspending. But by the time she learns this, it’s too late – her latest spending spree has not only eaten up the last of the money but also run up an additional £29,500 in bills to pay! So they are now in huge debt and there are angry creditors on the doorstep.

Fortunately Minnie managed to save enough to clear the debts, and there is even a bit left over. The parents now understand why Minnie was saving so hard. So the next time the bullies call Minnie a meanie, Mum gives them a real piece of her mind and tells them what Minnie did for them. After this they apologise to Minnie, admit they were just jealous and how horrible they were. They also guess who the secret beneficiary was and now realise how wise Minnie was not to spend the money the way her parents did. Minnie gets her friends back and forgives their conduct. The other Badger Street residents rally around to help out once the word spreads (with a few gloating exceptions).

The parents have to find a new way to make ends meet. At Minnie’s suggestion, they use the two cars they have now and the remaining money to start a taxi business.

Thoughts

This story is so realistic because it draws on so many real-life stories that we hear about. People who go from rags to riches, only to end up in rags again. People who win vast fortunes – only to lose the lot within a few years because they handled the money badly, as the Mill parents did. People who come into a huge amount of money get taken advantage of by cadgers and false friends. Which is precisely the reason why some people who win the lotto prefer to stay quiet about it. Over-generous people losing huge amounts of money because they can’t stop giving – sometimes even when they can’t even afford to give – and cadgers taking advantage of them as well. People who found that huge wins turned sour for them and prove the old adage that money is not everything. All of it is revolving around in this story.

Through Minnie’s eyes, we see an exploration of greed and how it brings out the worst in people, even in people Minnie thought were her friends. Minnie always sees vultures swooping in on what the parents have to give away and cadgers dropping in to take advantage with sob stories and such. She also sees jealousy in people when they’re not grasping, such as nasty gossips. Jealousy is clearly behind all their nastiness towards Minnie as they were whispering she was turning into a miser well before she started on her so-called miserly conduct. At the party to celebrate the win they are gossiping that she is a miser just because she doesn’t look so happy; in fact it’s because she already suspects their cadging.

While the residents of Badger Street say Mrs Mill has a heart of gold, they do not reciprocate it in any way or show any gratitude for the things the Mill parents do for them. They don’t even give the Mill family a cup of flour when they ask for one or offer to help out when Dad loses his wallet. All they do is take, take, take from the Mill family now that they’re in the money, and they don’t give anything in return. They have a nerve calling Minnie a meanie when they are so mean themselves towards the Mill family and don’t show them any generosity. It’s not until the very end that they rediscover their kindness and give something back to the Mill family.

The story also comments on how a huge supply of money can get people to take things for granted. Dad laughs off the back payment because it looks nothing compared to his win. Mum throws out brand-new and expensive furnishings and thinks nothing of the expense of buying new ones. An expensive trolley goes when the vultures swoop on the old furnishings, but Mum dismisses it as no big deal (Dad is more horrified). Mum thinks little of a woman cadging off her because she’s got so much money anyway. The parents would never have thought that way in the days when they lived in shabby accommodation and Mum had to be a careful housekeeper because they did not have much money. Minnie never goes that way at all and is appalled at her parents’ attitude.

This story is no exception to girls’ serials where the protagonist has far more brains, common sense and perception than her parents. While the parents are so blithe to the cadging or shrug it off, Minnie can see right through it. Minnie gets victimised by the cadging too, but at least she rumbles the cadgers and does something about it wherever she can. Also, Minnie never catches the “buying disease” as her parents do and goes crazy on spending, so she is quick to realise where it is all going to lead. She is the only one to take active steps to prepare for that eventuality. Dad eventually heeds the warning signals about the impending doom, but he does not really do anything about it. He does worry and quarrels with his wife about overspending, but he does not actually tell the family what is going on or show them the bank statements. Nor did he put any remaining money into a reserve, as Minnie did.

Minnie is more assertive than many protagonists. So many of them, such as Helen Shaw from “Hard Times for Helen”, just suffer in silence and don’t speak out (until the end). But Minnie is not afraid to speak up. She constantly speaks parents about the cadging, even if they don’t listen. At times she even talks back at the cadgers and bullies.

And of course it’s all thanks to the protagonist that things do not turn out so badly for the parents in the end. If it had not been for Minnie, their stupidity, lack of foresight and heedless spending would have ruined them entirely and they would ended up even worse off than when they were to begin with. As it is, Minnie’s money and brains and Mum’s not-too-bad idea of buying a second car enable them to begin on a new business venture that keeps them from going right back to square one or even worse.

It’s a relief all around when the money goes, because it brought only trouble. But then, much of that was due to the parents handling the money badly and not heeding the advice of the pools representative. If the Mill parents get another chance at the pools, they will no doubt try to use the money more wisely.

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: #30 (26 April 1980) – #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 Jojo 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: Undetermined. (Jim Eldridge and Barrie Mitchell deny the artwork is theirs.)

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.