Tag Archives: José Ariza

The Chosen One (1985)

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Published: Bunty Picture Library #263

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #394

Note: Not to be confused with “The Chosen One”, Bunty Picture Library #97, 1971

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); José Ariza (story)

Plot

At school, Claudia Green is a talented singer who enters the school’s Martha Blair Music Scholarship. There is a bust of Martha Blair at school. Claudia feels its eyes are watching everyone and it sends chills along her spine. When alive, Martha Blair chose the winner herself, and the winner would be known as “The Chosen One”. The school music teacher thinks it sounds romantic. But when you think about it, it could also sound creepy…

Claudia wins the scholarship, and the prize includes free music lessons and a mini-bust of Martha Blair. But something odd happens when Claudia is near the main bust afterwards. She can’t seem to move and the bust seems to say, “Remember, Claudia, that you are the Chosen One! You must prove yourself to be worthy of this award! You must not abuse your talents!”

Claudia is not sure if it is her imagination or what. Whatever it is, though, it has reckoned without Claudia’s mother.

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Mrs Green has changed for the worse since her husband died. Money worries have made her selfish and she always seems to be in a surly mood and not thinking about Claudia. She does not appreciate the small kindnesses Claudia tries to do for her in attempts to make her feel better. And as for when Mum hears Claudia won the scholarship, all she says is: “Free music lessons? Is that all they gave you for a prize? Free music lessons aren’t going to put food on our table, are they?” Sounds like a prime candidate for reckless greed if the opportunity arises.

Sure enough, Mrs Green starts abusing Claudia’s singing as a means to make money. At first this is by entering a talent contest, and then it is contract with a Mike Slade to turn Claudia into a pop star. Claudia does not want to be a pop star, but Mum has no regard for her wishes or feelings whatsoever and puts emotional blackmail on her: “How can you be so selfish, Claudia? All these years I’ve struggled to give you a decent chance in life and this is how you repay me!”

Claudia dislikes Mr Slade from the first. She thinks he is a horrible man, and soon realises he is a greedy man who is only interested in her for as long as she will make him money. Claudia does not like the vulgar way he addresses her and her mother either. Mrs Green does not seem to mind, though. Mr Slade is fanning the flames of her greed as he moulds Claudia into a famous pop star. The more Claudia learns about being a pop star the less she likes it, but all her mother cares about is the money it will make.

It seems Claudia is not the only one who is unhappy about it. From the moment the unwanted pop star career began that mini-bust of Martha Blair starts to warn Claudia, “You are the Chosen One! You must not abuse your talent!”

Not surprising, other weird things start happening. The mini-bust is put on the piano while a teacher is coaching Claudia in being a pop star. Then Claudia feels an odd shiver and the piano lid goes crashing down on the teacher’s fingers for no apparent reason. Unfortunately for Claudia the teacher has told Mr Slade that she has what it takes to be a pop star. Now there is no stopping Mr Slade or Mum in pushing her into being one.

They both show Claudia how ruthless they are when they force her to miss a solo she was set to do for her school concert in order to go for an audition for “Rising Stars”. Mr Slade threatens to wash his hands of Claudia while Mum says a school concert is nothing compared to the chance Claudia will get at the audition. Claudia obeys, but the school finds out about the let-down and Claudia is disgraced there. She is upset, but Mum would not even care.

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Meanwhile, another weird thing happens at the audition. Mum would insist on taking that mini-bust of Martha Blair everywhere and has brought it along. Claudia gets an odd shiver and an entrant who looks a cert to win finds his guitar strings snapping for no apparent reason. So Claudia wins the audition by default, but feels she was somehow responsible for what happened to that entrant.

Back home, when Claudia puts on a record the voice of Martha Blair blares out of the speakers: “You have been warned, Claudia! Stop this foolishness before it is too late!”

At Claudia’s first recording at “Rising Stars” she knows that if she is successful she will be stuck in an unwanted career. But her recording comes to an abrupt end when the lights all explode at once and start a fire. Claudia felt oddly cold again just before it happened. “Rising Stars” will be out of business for weeks, but Mr Slade says he will find another way to bring them money. Claudia realises that he really means get his cut of the money.

The same pattern recurs at an open-air pop concert, and this time a canopy falls down. Worse, the stories of those other accidents catch up and Claudia is turned into the press sensation “Claudia the Jinx”! Mum and Mr Slade are not pleased at Claudia’s new reputation as a jinx but are too greedy to give up on her. Realising Claudia will not get another job because of her jinx reputation, Mr Slade forces her adopt a disguise and a new persona, “Sunny Beamish”, and has her sing for TV commercials. But at a shooting on a boat, Claudia hears Martha Blair’s voice out of nowhere, and of course disaster strikes the boat. Claudia the Jinx is then uncovered and the press make even more sensation out of it.

That night the mini-bust gets worse. It seems to get bigger and bigger, it gives off a strange glow, and it tells Claudia that she has had enough warning. She must now develop her talent in the way expected of the Chosen One – “or perish!” After this, Claudia definitely does not want to go to a pop show Mr Slade has booked for her in Germany (to escape her jinx reputation), but despite her efforts to avoid the flight she ends up on the plane. The plane gets damaged by a storm and has to return to the airport. Compared to Claudia’s premonitions of what was going to happen, it seems she got off lightly there. She is relieved they did not make it to Germany too.

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Nonetheless, Mr Slade isn’t giving up. Now he has Claudia work in a backing group (under another name and disguise). This time the weird pattern strikes the star of the show, who is taken mysteriously ill. Claudia does marvellously as a stand-in. Mr Slade now thinks Claudia has lived down her jinx reputation and it is safe for her to work openly again.

But afterward the mini-bust gets angry again and tells Claudia that disaster will keep striking her for as long as she abuses her talent. This is too much for Claudia, who runs blindly out into the street and is hit by a car.

When Claudia regains consciousness two days later she finds her mother is a changed person and she apologises for her selfish conduct. Mr Slade disappeared after realising Claudia was no longer in a condition to be a money-spinner for him, and Mum is not sorry to see the back of him. So Claudia is now free of her unwanted pop career, but faces a long, difficult road to recovery.

Eventually, Claudia wins a scholarship at the Marston Grange School of Music. Mum gets a housekeeping job there, with a flat to go with the job, so everything is fine for them both now. Claudia goes back to her old school to make peace with the big bust of Martha Blair, though she is no longer sure if the haunting was real or in her imagination. The statue is not telling.

Thoughts

In honour of the upcoming Halloween season, we continue discussion of spooky serials with this entry. And the haunted bust certainly is frightening. It leads off with the face of Martha Blair herself. Even before the haunting starts, the face of that formidable-looking lady would make anyone feel intimidated and even frightened. One can imagine the sort of person Martha Blair was in life. It is understandable that someone’s imagination might run riot if that face made too strong an impression on them, but are we really convinced it was imagination…? It is stretching imagination a bit far to imagine a bust growing larger and giving off a glow, or making threats in an angry voice. To say nothing of a supernatural voice coming out of speakers or out of nowhere on the wind. That is hallucination, not imagination, and there is no evidence of Claudia hallucinating. It is a bit hard to dismiss those weird things as some sort of subconscious reaction to the forced pop music career either. Claudia had her first odd encounter with the bust before Mum had even got started on it.

If it were indeed a real haunting, Martha Blair’s anger would be far more justifiable if Claudia really was abusing her talent for selfish or unsuitable ends. But Claudia is not abusing her talent – her talent is being abused, in the name of profit, and one of those abusers is her own mother. So it is quite unfair for Martha Blair to be haunting, jinxing and threatening Claudia in this way on top of poor Claudia being emotionally blackmailed into a career she does not want, just to satisfy her mother’s greed. If anything, Martha Blair should be haunting that selfish mother.

We get our first glimpse of how selfish the mother has become when Claudia comes home late from school. Mum grouses at Claudia for being kept waiting for her supper, which she expects Claudia to do. Why can’t the mother do the supper herself? She is quite capable. Is she going through some sort of depression over her husband’s death and stress over money? Or is she lumbering Claudia with all the housework or something? When Claudia wins the scholarship, Mum snaps at how it won’t bring in any money instead of being delighted and congratulating Claudia. She moans about money all the time, but we don’t see her raising any by working until the end of the story.

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Mum’s selfishness and fixation with money worries makes her easy prey for a money-grubber like Mike Slade. There is no evidence that Mr Slade is downright crooked as some music managers are in girls’ serials, but greed is written all over him. He does not care about the person he makes a star out of, only the money he will make out of that person. Claudia can see it and what sort of man Mr Slade is, However, Mum is too blinded by her own greed to see it as well and does not realise that Mr Slade is playing on her greed in order to feed his own.

As Mum’s greed grows, she becomes increasingly callous to Claudia. She does not care about what Claudia wants or her feelings, and does not listen to Claudia’s pleadings about them. Whenever Claudia tries to reason with Mum, she uses emotional blackmail, gives Claudia a look she can’t say no to, or just slaps Claudia down to get what she wants out of her. She does not think about Claudia feels over being called “The Jinx Girl” in the press. She just keeps pushing Claudia on into making more money as a pop star and damn her jinx reputation.

The press who brand Claudia a jinx have no regard for her feelings either – or what they will do to her reputation and career. All they care about is making a sensational story out of her. They bulldoze all over her protests that they can’t take her photograph: “Too late, love!”. More greedy people abusing a hapless girl for profit.

Only shock treatment can bring Mum to her senses, and she gets it when Claudia has the accident. Then Mr Slade walks out after he realises Claudia could make no more money for him, which must have opened Mum’s eyes about him.

The artwork from José Ariza makes a superb job of expressing how growing greed is changing Mum for the worse. Her face is getting harder when she speaks to Claudia and there are truly callous expressions on her face in several panels, which are really disturbing.

The protagonist in this story has a hard time on more than one front. First are the greedy mother and manager who exploit Claudia’s talent and ride roughshod over her wishes and feelings. Second is being terrorised by an angry spirit who is persecuting her for a rather unfair reason. The spirit’s wrath causes disaster to strike at every turn, which turns our unfortunate heroine into a tabloid sensation as a jinx on top of everything else! Third is having a terrible road accident that leaves her unable to walk for a long time. By the time Claudia is going for her own audition, she is still using walking aids. One can only hope that by this time the “Claudia the Jinx” moniker has been forgotten, particularly as the cause of it all should be at peace now.

The White Mouse (1979)

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Published: Emma #67 (02 June 1979) – #81 (08 September 1979) – final issue

Artist: José Ariza

Plot

Louise Colbert is a nurse in Verville in Nazi-occupied Belgium during World War II. She is known as a timid, gentle, unassuming person. One night an Allied pilot is shot down. In hospital, a patient named Mr LeBlanc confides in Louise that he is hiding the wanted airman in his old theatre. She must inform a Mr Gabin about this, and that the airman is to be taken to a pickup point that night. But both Gabin (had to evade arrest by the Nazis) and LeBlanc (died later) become unable to help the airman, so it falls to Louise. She makes her way to the theatre, but finds the Nazis have caught the airman. Louise heads to the props room, where she dons a white mouse mask and uses a prop rifle to help the airman get away from the Nazis and to his rendezvous to be picked up.

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And so Louise’s career as “the daring White Mouse” is born. Word soon spreads about this new resister. A lot of people, such as fellow nurses at the hospital, laugh at the idea that the White Mouse could be Louise because she is so timid. It doesn’t take long for the White Mouse to become so famous that other European countries, including Nazi Germany itself, hear about her; she gets plenty of comment from overseas agents and one defecting German saying so. The White Mouse is soon the bane of Colonel Koenig of the Gestapo and his henchman, Major Lutz. But like everyone else, Koenig and Lutz assume Louise is too timid to have any connection to the White Mouse.

White Mouse cases often start at the hospital where Louise works. Louise encounters more patients who have connections to the Resistance one way or another, and it is a simple matter to put on her mask and get them to confide in her as the White Mouse. Other times it is someone she meets while out cycling, such as a defecting German, downed Allied airmen, or Resistance fighters. After that she takes up their cases, which include rescuing their relatives from the Nazis, retrieving items they stole from the Nazis, getting people on the underground railroads to safe countries and other emergencies.

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Koenig sets several traps for the White Mouse, of course. In one episode, he rigs up a German as a downed Allied airman for the White Mouse for help. But the White Mouse gets suspicious, simply on finding that his rifle is cold and therefore could not have opened fire on Germans only moments before, as he claimed. She goes along with him until she is ready to turn him over to the Resistance.

Ironically, in one episode Koenig actually does capture the White Mouse – in her civilian identity – without realising it. It takes a bit of luck and ingenuity for Louise to get rid of her White Mouse mask before the Gestapo search her and find it, and they soon release her. Presumably she got another mask from the old theatre, for the theatre does reappear in the strip to get disguises for the people she is helping.

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The White Mouse carries on until the last issue of Emma. Sadly, she does not make it into the merger. The final episode is a regular White Mouse episode, where she comes to the aid of Belgian resistance fighters and a British radio operator, who have been surprised by German forces. After seeing them all to safety, Jacques the leader thanks the White Mouse for the service she has done for them, which they can never repay. The war still rages, so the career of the White Mouse continues.

Thoughts

Curiously, there was a real-life WW2 SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent and resistance fighter called The White Mouse. Her name was Nancy Wake and she made it all the way to Number 1 on the Gestapo’s Most Wanted List. Unlike her Emma counterpart, the real White Mouse did not wear a mouse mask or adopt the moniker as a code name; the Gestapo dubbed her the White Mouse because of her ability to elude them.

The shyness of Louise Colbert could be described as a Clark Kent personality – except that unlike Superman she did not develop it as a cover for her secret identity. Rather, this is her own personality; Louise starts out as a nurse who is known for her shyness. However, Louise does not show her shyness much, either before or after she becomes the White Mouse; it’s only through the comments of other people that we know it at all. She comes across more as an ordinary nurse, no different from any other.

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Shyness does not make Louise a coward, though; even before she dons the mouse mask she does not hesitate to go to the rescue of her first case at the old theatre when his initial helpers become unavailable. The moment he is caught by the Germans, she has no qualms about going to the rescue and thinks fast as to how to do it. In that split second Louise demonstrates not only courage but also instant powers of resourcefulness, quick wits and fast thinking in getting out of sticky situations. She also has amazing powers of observation that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. For example, she is tipped off to the phoney British airman Koenig set up for her by the mere fact of discovering his rifle was cold.

Luck also plays its role in the success of the White Mouse. For example, on her debut night, she is stopped by German soldiers as she drives the British airman to safety. But they are so startled by the mouse mask that they flee in fright. Silly boys! That mouse mask sure does create a lot of humorous moments, especially from an artistic point of view; for example, when it is drawn at an upwards angle.

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It is ironic that everyone assumes Louise is too timid to be the White Mouse. Does nobody remember that mice are associated with timidity? They probably equate shyness with cowardice, as one hot-headed resister does in one episode. So much the better for keeping the identity of the White Mouse secret.