Tag Archives: Mario Capaldi

Where Have All the Children Gone? [1985] / Where are the Children? [1996]

Where are the Children cover

Published: as Where Have All the Children Gone? Judy Picture Library #272

Reprinted: as Where are the Children? Mandy Picture Library #243

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

In Victorian times, Flossie Ford is a poor slum girl that has made good and now runs her own florist shop in Cheapwell. The gentry are among her clients, including prim Miss Courtney and her bookworm brother Algernon Courtney. Flossie is particularly known for her buttonhole flowers. Still, Flossie has not forgotten her origins or her family, and can revert to Cockney, which she had to take special lessons to overcome.

Street children start disappearing from Cheapwell. Homeless, uncared-for waifs are the targets, but one exception is Flossie’s cousin Frankie Ludd, so it is personal for her and her Aunt Ada. Superintendent Spenser of the police recruits Flossie’s help because she can operate as both a Cockney in the slums and a respectable florist among the smart society; the police suspect someone in the smart society is behind the disappearances.

As the latter Flossie notices something odd when she arranges the flowers for Miss Courtney’s dinner party: one of their guests, Mr Warby-Bellowes is “one of their kings of industry”. Flossie is a bit surprised at this because Warby-Bellowes does not seem to be the sort who would appeal to the Courtneys, but she thinks nothing of it.

As the former, Flossie picks up a clue from the mudlarks that Frankie was buying a pie at Beck’s Wharf before he disappeared. At Beck’s Wharf, Flossie learns an old woman named Ma Jiggs bought the pie for Frankie, and she is now buying another pie for another waif. When Flossie asks Jiggs about Frankie, Jiggs denies all knowledge of him and says she just buys pies for waifs out of charity. However, Flossie senses Jiggs is mealy-mouthed and false, and therefore the sort who could lure children away with seeming kindness. But there is as yet no proof of this, and all Flossie can do is tell Spenser about Jiggs.

Where are the Children 2

Next day Flossie is arranging flowers for a wedding at the home of another client, Mrs Leighton, where she sees Warby-Bellowes again. A maid named Carrie tries to tell Flossie she just found out something about Cheapwell while she was home in Blackscar, a town a long way from Cheapwell. But before Carrie can say more, Mrs Leighton expresses disapproval at her maid wasting time talking to tradespeople. Later, Warby-Bellowes visits the florist shop and also asks Flossie what Carrie was trying to tell her. Flossie finds this suspicious and says they were just talking about the wedding.

At the police station Flossie finds the police are questioning Jiggs, who denies any connection with the missing children and stands up to interrogation. They are forced to release her, but both they and Flossie are suspicious of her. Then Carrie stumbles into the station, all beaten up. Carrie falls into a coma and can’t be questioned, but Flossie reports what passed between them.

A week later, Flossie goes back to Beck’s Wharf in Cockney disguise, where she finds Jiggs is no longer buying pies for the waifs. Jiggs tells Flossie she lost a good job because of her. Flossie retorts what good job that could be. Yes, what could it be – luring children off, maybe? Flossie reports this to Spenser.

At the hospital Carrie regains consciousness but is too scared to tell Flossie and the police anything. The police think the kidnappers may lie low after the scare they had, but they are wrong. The disappearances merely shift to a new section of Cheapwell, Nine Arches, and friends of the disappeared children insist they must have been kidnapped. By now the disappearances are sending waves of fear and paranoia through the street waifs and the slum dwellers of Cheapwell.

Flossie hits on a plan to flush out the kidnappers. She sets herself up as a target at Nine Arches, along with her cousin Alfie and friend Bert, and the police will be shadowing them. The kidnappers take the bait. A man named Wilkes (evidently Ma Jiggs’ replacement) approaches them. Wilkes is dressed more respectably than Ma Jiggs but looks sinister and evil, and is soon tempting them away with promises of food and warm clothing at a shelter full of “sad little souls” like themselves. They allow Wilkes to lure them away and to a closed wagon, where he locks them in and says they are going to be put to work. Flossie peeks out through the cracks in the wagon and is stunned to learn that Wilkes is in the pay of none other than the prim Miss Courtney! Presumably Algernon is involved too.

Where are the Children 4

The wagon takes them to (surprise, surprise!) Blackscar. They are put to work as (presumably unpaid) slave labour in a factory under a cruel overseer. They find Frankie, who has been badly beaten for trying to escape. They can’t escape without Spenser’s help, but he has lost the wagon and the trail. Fortunately the police pick up the wagon again and track it and Wilkes down to Warby-Bellowes. They overhear Wilkes telling Warby-Bellowes that the consignment was delivered safely (Spenser realises what this must mean) and more is promised. Spenser tackles Warby-Bellowes, who denies all knowledge about missing children. Spenser tells Warby-Bellowes he wants to pay a visit to his factories in the morning.

When the overseer is informed of this he hides the children. But Flossie leaves her calling card for the police – a buttonhole flower she put on the overseer. Spenser spots the clue immediately, orders an immediate search of the factory, and finds the kidnapped children.

The racket is exposed and stopped. The horror makes shock waves in the press, with photographs of the three racketeers on the front page. To reduce the chances of a repeat, Aunt Ada offers a home for homeless waifs. Flossie finds her shop is now even more popular and people keep asking her to tell the story over and over.

Thoughts

The racket is not unlike the one in Girl 2’s “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”, in which a racket targets and kidnaps runaways and uses them as slave labour in a dress factory. The ways in which the children are kidnapped in both stories is very similar (lured away by false charity before being thrown into a vehicle and carted off to the slave factory) although one is set in Victorian times and the other in modern times.

Where are the Children 3

Unlike Nightmare Factory, this story is not told from the point of view of the abducted children and their struggle to survive, escape and expose the racket. It is told from the point of view of the people who are trying to find them. This gives the slave story the perspective of a detective story and a mystery that needs to be unravelled and a different take on the group slave story formula, which makes a nice change.

Again unlike Nightmare Factory, the abductees are lucky that the disappearances are noticed as soon as they start and alert people. The racketeers clearly played on the notion that nobody cared about homeless waifs, so nobody would even notice they were gone. If Wilkes has anything to go by, they may even have justified their actions in their own minds with the excuse they were doing the waifs and society a favour by clearing them off the streets and giving them employment. Of course the real reason is greed and making handsome profits by using slave labour instead of paid (if cheap) help. But they made the mistake of taking children who were not homeless waifs, such as Frankie Ludd, which did get noticed and raised the alarm. (This mistake is similar to the one the racketeers in Nightmare Factory eventually make.) The racketeers also made the mistake of assuming nobody would care about the waifs. There were people who did, including Flossie and the police.

Where are the Children 1

Flossie would make the old tried-and-true serial of a poor girl who rises above her poverty to become a great success through her talent for floristry if DCT had gone down that avenue with her. Instead, they give her the perfect vantage point to turn detective on behalf of the police in tracking down the disappeared children. Flossie has the best of both worlds for the job, with her slum origins that enable her to investigate the slums and her floristry reputation and connections to high society that enable her to investigate the gentry. She picks up clues at both ends, without which the police would never have cracked the case. And Flossie did it so well that none of the racketeers realised the florist and the slum girl were one and the same. The flowers do their part as well. Arranging them gives Flossie access to the homes of the gentry to do investigating, and Flossie’s trademark buttonhole flowers enable her to leave a call for help on the cruel overseer without making him suspicious.

Unfortunately the Courtney racketeers put on such convincing shows of respectability that Flossie did not suspect them. Flossie was completely fooled by Miss Courtney’s conduct of being a prim old maid who was so absorbed with her house, while her brother Algernon never seemed to do anything other than read books. Flossie thought Miss Courtney had probably never even heard of homeless waifs, much less know anything about the missing ones. When Flossie finds Miss Courtney out, she learns the hard way that appearances can be so deceiving. Fortunately Warby-Bellowes was not as clever as the Courtneys and made mistakes that made Flossie suspicious.

If Flossie had been a serial, there was scope to use her in more detective stories on behalf of the police, using her slum background to move among the slum areas, her floristry to probe the gentry, and leave flower trails for the police to follow. But she was a picture story library, which have few sequels.

Misty Short Stories II

In a follow-up to Lorrsadmin’s discussion of 15 of her favourite Misty short stories, I am going to discuss 10 of the Misty stories that have really stuck with me. Some of my favourite short stories, “Mr Walenski’s Secret”, “Don’t Look Now!”, “Room for One More”, “Fancy Another Jelly Baby?”, “Prisoner in the Attic” and “The Evil Djinn”, have been omitted here as Lorrsadmin has already discussed them. For this reason, I am not going to discuss the following stories in order of preference.

1: The Girl Who Walked on Water

Misty: #35

Artist: José Canovas

Writer: Barry Clements (?)

Plot

Nancy Pierce has caused her parents so much trouble that they have disowned her and dumped her on Social Services. Social Services are making no headway with Nancy, so they send her to Mrs West, who has an “astonishing” success rate at reforming delinquents. Mrs West keeps photographs of Nancy’s predecessors on the mantelpiece; Nancy attacks photographs when she hears those girls have all reformed. But this does not affect the calm, unruffled Mrs West in the slightest, nor do any other attempts to annoy her.

While walking on the beach, Nancy is amazed to see a girl walking on the water. When Nancy tackles her about how she does it, the girl says to leave her alone. Mrs West denies any knowledge about the girl walking on water.

Nancy keeps an eye out for the girl. When she reappears, Nancy rows up to her, and recognises her as one of Mrs West’s girls from the photographs. The girl warns Nancy not to pursue the question of how she can walk on water, for it is not the good thing it appears to be. But Nancy persists and resorts to force to get what she wants out of her. The girl says it is the shoes, which she forced off another Mrs West girl in the same manner that Nancy is doing now. Still not listening to the girl’s warnings that she will regret it, Nancy makes her remove the shoes.

When Nancy puts on the shoes, she is thrilled to be walking on water. But then she discovers the catch – the shoes do make her walk on water, but they also make her sink on land. And now the shoes will not come off, which means Nancy is now trapped on the water. She will remain so until the next Mrs West girl comes along and, in turn, force her to remove the shoes. When that happens, Nancy will be free and add to Mrs West’s astonishing success rate. As the girl goes up to Mrs West’s house, the lady takes down her photograph and replaces it with Nancy’s.

Girl Who Walked on Water panel copy

Thoughts

The story falls into the category of what I call “The Greed Trap”. An unsavoury person is lured by greed to an object, place or power. Too late they discover it is a trap. They become its prisoner until the next unsavoury person arrives (if they ever do) and replaces them by falling into the same trap. The concept has been used in several Misty stories, such as “Full Circle” and “The Final Piece”. But what makes this story so striking is how it turns the whole concept of walking on water inside out. We all know the story of Jesus walking on water, and how the feat has been hailed as a miracle. So it is a real twist here to see the concept walking on water being turned on its head to become a punishment instead of a miracle.

It’s also slightly different from the usual greed trap stories, where the trap catches the person completely unawares. Here Nancy had plenty of warning – from the girl. We also suspect she had a chance to change at Mrs West’s house (everything free and easy, nice place in a beach setting, the lady being kind and not getting wound up by Nancy’s misbehaviour). But Nancy did not heed any of it and so she went on to suffer Mrs West’s special treatment. Still, at least Nancy will one day regain her freedom and start a new life as a reformed girl. This is not the case with the delinquent girl in our next story…

2: The Treatment

Misty: #75

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

Glenda Barton is a problem girl and her parents have sent her to Country Park Corrective School. It is not a bad place; many of the other inmates seem to like it and respond to its therapy. But the school’s methods make no headway with Glenda and she wants to escape. She gets no help from the other girls, but the cook agrees to help her in exchange for money. But in fact Cook let her out on orders on the staff, who have decided she needs “The Treatment”, which the school reserves for incorrigible cases like her. When Glenda enters a wooded area Cook directed her to, The Treatment begins: She undergoes a terrifying transformation into a tree. A strange plant then releases a duplicate of Glenda to the staff. This Glenda is completely different in personality, and she will be the ‘reformed’ Glenda for her parents to take home. The Treatment is the bargain they have made with the plant: send in hopeless cases to be “adopted by the woods” in exchange for good-natured doubles.

The Treatment panel copy

Thoughts

Glenda had her chance to reform at the corrective school, as many of the other girls have done, without resorting to “The Treatment”. Indeed, many of Misty’s unpleasant characters are given a chance to change (warnings for example). But like most of them, Glenda persists with her unpleasant ways. So it’s comeuppance Misty style, and there is no mercy or release for the girl this time.

Perhaps the strongest point of this story is its most frightening moment at the climax and the artwork that renders it – Glenda’s transformation into the tree. It begins with her hand, spreads across her body, and she screams for help until she is fully transformed and then there is only silence until the staff come for her double. But the most disturbing part of all is the terrified face that remains on the trunk, in wooden form. We even see what could be beads of sweat on it in the final panel of the story. We are left wondering if that face in the final panel was her last expression before she was fully transformed, or if it is actually looking on in horror and helplessness as her double takes her place. We are never told what happens to her mind after her transformation, and we are left to ponder whether or not it is still functioning, trapped in the tree form. If her mind is still working, could she be finally thinking about changing her ways, but too late? At any rate, there is no release from this trap for problem girls.

3: The Chase

Misty: #40

Artist: Douglas Perry

Plot

Two pet fish, Sammy and Joey, always seem to be chasing each other around the tank as if they are playing tag. One day Sammy is found floating, with a gash in his side. The protagonist (no name is given) feeds Joey while saying she can’t play with him as Sammy could and he must miss Sammy a lot. Then Joey stares at her in an odd, hypnotic manner. She goes all dizzy and then finds herself in the fish tank with Joey. She agrees to play tag, and she will be “he”. But when she suggests they swap, Joey chases her in a killer-fish manner and puts a gash in her leg. The protagonist now realises it isn’t a game of tag; Joey is out to kill her and this was how Sammy went. When Joey corners the protagonist, she throws a stone at him. This stuns Joey and frees the protagonist from his spell. She finds herself back in the living room in a badly shaken state. Her mother thinks she just had a nightmare and she goes out for fresh air to recover. Then she finds the gash in her leg and realises it really happened. Then the protagonist hears her mother making a comment that has her realise that Joey is now staring at her mother in the same hypnotic manner, and she starts screaming after her…

The Chase panel copy

Thoughts

Misty had several stories showing that even animals considered small and harmless (rabbits, snails, tadpoles) can strike horror, terror or revulsion if handled the right way. And here it is the turn of goldfish. Goldfish are supposed to be harmless fish for you admire every time you see a tank full of them. You would never consider them to be dangerous or killers. But this is precisely what happens in this story and shows that a fish does not need to be a shark or piranha to be a killer fish rivalling “Jaws”. Once Joey has the protagonist in the tank, he sure looks like Jaws in the way he bares his teeth when he chases her around the tank and puts the gash in her leg.

4: Sticks and Stones

Artist: John Richardson

Misty: #9

Plot

Joan Cook is a nasty poison pen gossip columnist. All she cares about is making a name for herself with her poison pen and she really enjoys hurting people with the names she calls them. The editor knows this and is concerned, but does not really deal with her despite the trouble her poison pen has caused for him. Meanwhile, Joan’s shelves are groaning with files on all the dirt on people she has collected over the years. Her assistant Carol warns her that the shelves are dangerously overloaded from the files and could collapse at any time. But Joan won’t hear of pruning the collection, saying they are her life’s blood and will make a name for her. They will only go when she does.

A crossed wire enables Joan to overhear a conversation that Dr Garrett, a top scientist, is making with his assistant. The assistant asks how things are coming along with Gert, but Garrett makes a guarded answer. Based on this conversation, Joan writes a smear piece on Garrett, saying he is having an affair with a woman called Gert while his wife is sick in hospital. This makes life hell for Garrett’s daughter Marilyn, who gets targeted by nasty gossips and bullies at school and on the street. Marilyn tries to fall on the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. But as the bullying continues, she finds it is far from the truth – names can and do hurt. Marilyn’s friend Anne sticks by her, saying there must be a logical explanation. And there is – G.E.R.T. is the acronym for the machine her father has developed for treating her mother, and it proves successful too.

Meanwhile, the adage “names will never hurt me” bites Joan as well. Her groaning shelves finally collapse – right on top of her – and she gets crushed to death under all the files of the names of people she has collected dirt on.

Sticks and Stones panel copy

Thoughts

Does this one remind you of the popular cartoon joke where someone defiantly says to a heckler “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – and then they get hit by a dictionary? The joke has cropped up in Garfield and Wizard of Id among others. The old adage is a fallacy – words not only hurt as much as sticks and stones but they can also destroy your own name and even your life.

Other word-related adages are played on as well. One is “famous last words”, where Joan says she is staking her life that she got her facts straight on Garrett. She didn’t (as usual) and does lose her life. Another is “eating your words”, where Joan says she will go when her files do – and that is precisely what happens.

Using a gossip columnist for the comeuppance makes a nice change from the usual bullies, problem children, abusers and thieves. And who wouldn’t want a poison pen columnist to get it? The beauty is that Misty shows she can give someone a comeuppance without any supernatural or SF elements at all. Instead, Joan brings about her own destruction by her lack of common sense as much as her nastiness.

5: The Purple Emperor

Misty: #12

Artist: Isidro Mones

Plot

Betty regards butterflies as nothing more than specimens for her butterfly collection and the more rare they are, the greater her triumph. Betty’s kinder sister Sharon is horrified at how cruel she is to butterflies. Betty becomes obsessed at catching a Purple Emperor for her collection. When Sharon saves one from her, Betty further demonstrates her cruelty by slapping Sharon’s face and threatening to tear wings off a Purple Emperor just to spite her. Betty sets out on another attempt to catch a Purple Emperor, but has an accident and hits her head. She then has a terrifying experience (or dream from the blow on her head?) of a giant who is a Purple Emperor. He captures her with a butterfly net and throws her into a killing jar to suffocate and be added to his collection. She starts screaming that she must be imagining it and begs to wake up soon…

Purple Emperor panel copy

Thoughts

The story of the horrible butterfly-collecting girl who becomes a specimen herself and suffocates in a killing jar is one that has struck a cord in fandom. It is still mentioned in many Misty discussions. The artwork certainly helps to bring it off. The splash panel of Betty gloating evilly over a butterfly as she is about to stick a pin in it, and speaking her triumph in a jagged speech balloon rather than a regular one tells it all – the horror, the cruelty, the disregard for the life or beauty of nature, and what sort of comeuppance is in store. This panel takes the cover spot, which must have helped the story to endure in readers’ memory. Printing the story in full colour further enhances it. We can see the beauty of the butterflies in full colour, and the Purple Emperor giant in all his purple glory. He would have been far less effective if it had been in the usual black-and-white pages.

6: The Gravedigger’s Daughter

Misty: #78

Artist: John Armstrong

Plot

In an earlier period, Katey Malden is being bullied because her father is the local gravedigger. The bullying gets so bad that Katey runs off. By the time she is found she has contracted pneumonia, for which there was then no cure. Before she dies, she whispers something to her father.

The whole town turns out for the funeral, with people expressing regret that they did not take action against the bullying. The bullies themselves are remorseful except for the ringleader, Mary Douglas. The other bullies tell Mary go to Katey’s grave, lay down some flowers they give her and beg forgiveness, or they will never speak to her again. Mary goes to the grave and puts the flowers on it, but only to please the other girls. She has no intention of asking forgiveness and that is what she says at the grave. Then a hand shoots out of the grave Carrie-style and strangles Mary. Her body is found the next day. People think she died of fright, but Mr Malden guesses the truth, because the last thing Katey said to him was: “I shall never, never forgive!”

Gravediggers Daughter panel copy

Thoughts

Misty ran a lot of complete stories on the seriousness of bullying, but even she seldom went as far as to touch on the most extreme consequence of bullying – when it leads to the victim’s death. But that is the case here. The victim dies because of the bullying. We hear of it so often in the news, but seldom did it appear in the comics. So this sets the story apart more from Misty’s other stories about bullying.

Misty certainly is not going to allow the chief bully to get away with causing someone’s death, especially as the bully does not feel in the least bit guilty about it. And can the mere laying of flowers on the grave really right the wrong done to the victim or earn forgiveness for the bully? It does not sound likely. On the other hand, would a genuine show of contrition have brought forgiveness, since Katey had vowed with her dying breath never to forgive the bullies? Or would Katey have killed Mary anyway, regardless of her attitude at the grave? With this possibility in mind, it makes a better story to keep the chief bully an unsympathetic character that has no remorse for the death her bullying caused. The arm shooting out of the grave is a bit clichéd, but the artwork of John Armstrong really brings it off in the expression on Mary’s face as the hand throttles her.

7: Vengeance is Green…

Misty: #15

Artist: José Ariza

Plot

Nobody cares for Nina Parker. Girls bully her at school, the teachers don’t listen or intervene, and there is no help from her callous gran either. One day during the bullying, Nina finds an ivy plant that also got damaged from the bullies. She takes it home, pots it up, and starts caring for it as her only friend. Her gran is scornful, but the ivy begins to thrive. Nina finds that talking to the plant makes it grow faster and she pours out her bullied heart to it. One day the bullies overhear her and pounce. Then the ivy attacks the ringleader, Marion, and threatens to choke her. To save Marion, Nina is forced to destroy the ivy, her only friend.

Vengeance is Green panel copy

Thoughts

The comeuppance of the ivy attacking the bully is no surprise because of the buildup (talking to the plant, telling it all about the bullying, caring for it, looking for sympathy from it, and the plant thriving under it all). What is a surprise, and also a heart-breaking twist, is that Nina is forced to destroy her only friend with her own hands to save the bully, who would have been killed otherwise. One sure hopes the bully appreciated it and left Nina alone after that.

8: Monster of Greenacres

Misty: #85

Artist: Unknown

Plot

Greenacres is being terrorised by a strange madman who kills people and police are completely baffled as to his identity. He seemed to start by merely making a nuisance of himself, but once people got more used to it, he stepped up to murder after murder. Nobody is more scared of him than Polly. When she has a narrow escape from him, it drives her and her family out of Greenacres. This starts a stampede where everybody flees Greenacres to get away from the madman and it turns into a ghost town. There is nothing and nobody left in Greenacres but the killer himself – who is the scarecrow on the farm where Polly and her parents lived. The scarecrow did what he did because he just likes to scare and doesn’t know where to stop. But now there is nobody and nothing left for him to scare.

Monster of Greenacres panel copy

Thoughts

Here Misty portrays an evil that never gets destroyed. How can the police possibly figure out that the murderer is a scarecrow? There is no supernatural force of any sort that comes in and destroys him either. And the irony is that it is the scarecrow on the property where Polly lives – the one who fears him most. And it was his attempt to scare Polly that triggered the stampede that leaves the scarecrow with nobody left to scare. He has become a victim of his own success and presumably stands on the old farm bored stiff because he has left himself with nothing to scare. He has created his own punishment. It is not on the same level as him being destroyed and Greenacres becoming safe to live in again. But in some girls’ stories you can’t always win against evil or score a total victory against it. This is the case here, and it has the story end on a grim, sad note that makes it a better story.

9: The Monkey

Misty: #80

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

Kitty is a bully, and her worst vitriol is reserved for Benny, the organ grinder’s monkey. Every time she passes Benny she teases him, though she is disturbed by the way he looks at her. She does not heed admonishing from her parents or classmates to leave the monkey alone. One day Kitty pushes Benny too far and he bites her; the organ grinder says it is the great law giving her what she deserves. Soon after, Kitty starts acting very strangely. She acts like a monkey and seems to hear the organ grinder’s music out of nowhere. Every time she hears the music she behaves like a monkey. Deciding it must have something to do with the monkey bite, she goes to the organ grinder’s house to sort it out. There she finds Benny, who stares at her with burning eyes that seem “strangely human”. She goes into a strange trance that is full of more organ-grinding music. When she comes out of it, she finds that Benny has somehow switched bodies with her. He escapes in her body. She is condemned to spend the rest of her life in Benny’s body and forced to dance to the hated organ-grinding music while Benny gloats from inside her body.

Monkey panel copy

Thoughts

This story has something that was rare in Misty – humour. It sure is funny, the way Kitty behaves like a monkey: walking like one, climbing trees, eating peanuts. But it’s black comedy of course, and we know the girl is going to be punished for bullying and animal cruelty. And when Kitty becomes trapped in the monkey’s body, she finds that being an organ grinder’s monkey is cruel too. Though the organ grinder is not a cruel person and loves Benny, Misty shows the monkey leads an unpleasant life, dressing up in tutus and other costumes and dance for people’s money and entertainment. We also see the monkey is kept in a cage at home, which is a far cry from his natural habitat and no other monkeys for company. And this story was written in the 1970s, when it was less un-PC than it is now to use organ grinder monkeys or when fewer people gave thought to how unnatural it for exotic animals to be used for entertainment. It was a bit ahead of its time on that score.

10: Danse Macabre

Misty: #52

Artist: Maria Barrera

Plot

It is nearing the end-of-term production by Madame Krepskaya’s dancing academy. She has to choose between Nadia Nerona and Lois Hills for the star role. Nadia manages to cheat her way into the role. After all-day practice for the show the next day, Nadia asks to borrow the ballet shoes Madame wore at the height of her success for luck at the show. Madame refuses, saying luck is immaterial for a professional dancer, and furthermore, the shoes brought her success, but someone like Nadia has no idea of the price.

Scheming Nadia steals the shoes and takes them to the academy stage to try out. She is astonished to find ballet music coming out of nowhere and the shoes have a life of their own and can dance anything beautifully. She realises that the shoes were the secret of Madame’s success. But then comes the snag Madame hinted at – Nadia finds the shoes just won’t stop. They go on dancing and dancing, regardless of how exhausted Nadia is getting or the injuries her feet are taking from the non-stop dancing. Things get even more terrifying when Nadia discovers that the music is coming from the orchestra pit and the musicians are all skeletons! The same goes for the corps de ballet and the danseur who now partners her. And when the ballet turns to “Giselle”, Nadia really panics – the protagonist in that ballet dies and is carried off by the spirits of death (actually, the part about the spirits of death is not correct, which shows lack of proper research there). The ballet dancing with the skeletons gets more and more wild until Nadia finally blacks out on the stage and everything goes quiet. Nadia is found next morning and taken to hospital with badly damaged feet. Lois gets the role after all, and is a “towering success”. Lois also asked Madame if she could borrow the shoes for luck. Madame said an artist like her does not need shoes like that, and in any case, the shoes have been danced to pieces.

 Danse Macabre panel copy

Thoughts

When reading this story, one is reminded of the fairy tale of “The Red Shoes” where a vain girl is put through a merciless punishment of being locked into red shoes that will not stop dancing. She has to get her feet amputated by a headsman to break free of the spell. Though the story doesn’t go that far, it is excruciating and more than terrifying enough for the ballerina. Those skeletons would strike terror and nightmares into anyone. But they should not be a surprise to the readers with a title like “Danse Macabre”. For a moment we have to wonder if Nadia was meant to dance until she was a skeleton herself – there was a hint of it when the ballet turned to “Giselle” (which also has spirits forcing people to dance until they die) – but some editorial censorship stepped in. Or maybe it was the coming of dawn, though this is not mentioned. After all, daybreak stops the evil spirits in “Giselle” and the skeleton dance in the orchestral “Danse Macabre”.

My Mum is Missing!

Plot:

Jennie Watts’ mother disappears when her car is involved in an accident. The police have no luck in finding Mrs Watts, so Jennie sets out to do it herself. Clues tell Jennie that her mother has lost her memory and is travelling under her maiden name, and this is why the police have failed to find her.

Notes:

  • Artist: Mario Capaldi

Appeared:

  • My Mum is Missing! – Suzy:#127 (9  February 1985) – #138 (27 April 1985)

 

 

Selma’s Sanctuary

Plot:

Selma Jenks’ father is in hospital, and Uncle Tristan takes over the running of his farm. His focus on profit-making threatens Selma’s animal sanctuary, so she turns to animal training to make a profit out of her sanctuary too. But this annoys her rival, Miss Lavinia Leech.

Selma

Notes:

  • Artist: Mario Capaldi

Appeared:

  • Selma’s Sanctuary – Bunty:  #838 (02 February 1974) – #850 (27 April 1974)

The Unwanted One

Plot

Molly Harkiss, a village girl, has claimed the right to free education at exclusive Didbourne Manor School, a right that is one of the conditions of the grant of land to the school. But the snobby girls at Didbourne do not make Molly welcome and plot to get her expelled.

Unwanted

Notes

  • Artist: Mario Capaldi

Appeared

  • The Unwanted One – Judy: #526 (7 February 1970) – #541 (23 May 1970)
  • Reprinted – Judy: #980 (21 October 1978) – #995 (03 February 1979)

 

 

Out of Step!

Plot:

Julie Walker’s dream was that her divorced parents would get together again. But her dad became engaged to Grace Harvey whose daughter Karen was at school with Julie. The two girls couldn’t stand each other, which made Julie determined to break up the engagement.

Notes:

  • Art: Mario Capaldi

Appeared:

  • Out of Step! –  Bunty:  #1729 (02 March 1991) –  #1736 (20 April 1991)

 

 

The Sentinels

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

Plot

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

   

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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