Tag Archives: schemer

Who is Astra? [1983]

Published: Mandy PSL #62

Reprint: Mandy PSL #211

Artist: Kim Raymond

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Paula and the Wasps of Terror / Paula [1966]

  • Paula and the Wasps of Terror –  Diana: #187 (17 September 1966) – #196 (19 November 1966)
  • Reprinted as Paula   Spellbound:  #22 (19 February 1977) – #31 (23 April 1977)

Plot

Paula Spencer is a brilliant young violinist, whose career is derailed after an accident. After her first big concert, while driving home, the car suddenly starts to fill with wasps. Her father, Sir William Spencer, a high court judge, loses control of the car and they crash. Paula’s music instructor is killed in the crash and her father is left badly injured. Paula injures her hand, and her father worries he has ruined her career. In order to help her father, she is determined to play violin again, but the injury to her hand isn’t the biggest obstacle she has to overcome, it’s her new fear of wasps  (spheksophobia). What she doesn’t know is her new teacher Mahsud Krishnan is using this fear against her as he has a vendetta against Sir William.

Krishnan sprays flowers near Paula with a powder that attracts wasps, and places a wasp in her violin case. When Paula can’t go on playing for her father because of the wasp, he relapses due to worry of her ruined career. Paula’s fear gets so great, she does not want to leave her house, she practices her violin in a boarded room, which does seem to help with her progress. This does not make Krishnan happy though, he suggests she makes a recording for her father, only for a wasp to appear in the middle of the recording. He plays an edited version to Sir William making it sound like Paula hates the violin and can’t have it near her. This causes Sir William to have another relapse. Paula does find an ally when she is assigned a young physiotherapist, Hilary Dewar, to help with her recovery. Not only does Hilary help with  Paula’s hand, she also wants to help her overcome her fear of wasps and is the first to suspect someone is working against Paula.

Hilary finds out Paula’s violin has golden acacia scent on it which attracts wasps, and she also listens to the tampered recording, so now they know someone is out to get Sir William. For first time Paula is able to play for her father without problems and Sir William shows signs of improvement. Paula’s confidence grows especially after Hilary gives her a wasp repellent spray, but again it is tampered with and ends up attracting wasps while she plays for her father and she ends up with several stings on her hand. Later at home, Hilary convinces Paula the spray is safe, but when she uses it to kill a wasp, she accidentally gets spray in Krishnan’s eyes. He is angry thinking he is blinded, and his motivation for being against the Spencers is first hinted at, as he says “first my brother and now me – thanks, to the Spencers!” (Really at this stage, Hilary who overhears this remark should be able to figure out who is behind these attacks!). There is no permanent damage to his eyes and so he is able to play his next trick, sneaking a queen wasp into Paula’s violin case. Hilary drives them into a lake to escape the wasps.

The hospital is to have a concert, and not only is Paula going to play violin at it, she also gets Krishnan to teach her to play the sitar after hearing him play. The Indian music is not the pleasant surprise for Sir William that Paula had planned and then wasps attack and Paula does not want to play her violin piece. Krishnan convinces Sir William that Hilary is at fault for letting Paula play tennis, interrupting her studies, so he tells Hilary she must leave. This leaves Paula alone and vulnerable, to Krishnan’s schemes. Luckily Hilary still wants to look out for Paula, so she stays close by, keeping a watch on the house. This is very fortunate when Paula’s is chased from the house by a swarm of wasps, Hilary rescues her and takes her to stay in a yacht. She is going to keep her safe until they find out who is trying to harm her. Hilary asks Paula, why her father would be sad when hearing Indian music, she guesses it may have reminded him of her mother who was killed in Delhi. Meanwhile Krishnan is still working against the Spencers, telling Sir William, that Paula is missing feared drowned! This causes him to collapse and doctor’s fear he won’t recover.

Paula is contacted and is able to play the violin over the phone, rousing Sir William from unconsciousness. A week later, Paula is asked to appear on a televised concert with Krishnan conducting. Things start off well until she is attacked by a wasp again and runs off stage. Hilary talks to her and points out someone is using her to harm her father. Paula covers herself in wasp repellent and returns, concentrating only on making her father well again. As the camera’s were able to cover up Paula running off stage, Sir William is indeed happy to see Paula do so well. Meanwhile Hilary has continued with her investigation. She has found out that Mahsud Krishnan’s brother, Akbar, tried to assassinate Sir William but shot Mrs Spencer instead and was sentenced to life in prison. Krishnan’s tries one last attempt to get at Paula, by handing her flowers with 3 queen wasps. Hilary knocks the flowers out of his hands and also knocks the vial containing the wasp attraction liquid that Krishnan had been using. It splashes over him and he is attacked by a swarm of wasps. He makes it to water, but is taken to hospital to be treated for bad stings and shock. With their enemy now revealed, even more good news follows, as Sir William is well enough to return home. Paula also has overcome her fear of wasps with the defeat of Krishnan, and they can all enjoy her playing “The Wasps” by Vaughn Williams.

Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Spellbound gained a lot from the Diana comic, including some reprints and I can see how this would be a choice for a reprint.  Krishnan is quite devious, and while the reader knows he is behind the attacks, his motivations are still a mystery that needs to be solved. What makes this story stick in my mind more, is the wasps, as who wouldn’t be unsettled by the thought of being attacked by a swarm of wasps! I find it little odd that Spellbound shortened the title of this story to the plainer “Paula” considering “the Wasps of Terror” would be fitting with the comic’s themes and would evoke a certain image in readers mind. The art itself does portray the wasps as terrifying, as Paula so desperately tries to escape them.

The art, the wasps as a threat, Paula’s fear, Sir William’s life in jeopardy, Krishnan’s schemes and mystery of why he is doing this, all work well for the story. What doesn’t work so well, is that the characters can be quite frustrating at times! Firstly, Sir William being so devastated by possibly ruining his daughter’s career, while understandable to a degree, it seems like an over reaction that any falter by Paula and he’s convinced her violin days are over. Also though he is in a weak state, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s explained she has developed fear of wasps that is what is stopping her playing, not her hand (or if they have explained, he hasn’t listened). Secondly, is how slow people are to suspect Krishnan! Quite early on (in episode 4) Hilary suspects someone is out to get Sir William through Paula, while she eventually figures out who’s responsible and why, it seems to take a long time to get there. You would think it would have to be someone close to Paula to be able to spray her items with the scent that attracts wasps and with the tampered recording that Krishnan gave to Sir William, he should be a suspect. But even after Krishnan’s mention of his brother and implication of Spencers wronging him, he is continually allowed to teach Paula and play at concerts with her. Possibly as we don’t know all of Hilary’s thoughts, she may have been doing more secret investigations into him but couldn’t do anything against him until she had solid evidence, but if this is the case it doesn’t come across well in the story.

Another observation I had was the Spencers are a wealthy white family and to have an Indian as a villain, at a time when colonization of India hadn’t long ended, stands out to me. As these comics in general had a majority of white protagonists, it’s a shame that when other people were represented it was often in the role of a villain. There is an Indian doctor that appears in one episode, that lends Paula a sitar, but has no role other than that. Aside from that I am curious about Krishnan’s brother, while we know  that he is what motivates Krishnan’s act of vengeance, we don’t know why he tried to shoot Sir William in the first place. While that may be a question that would have been too much to get into for a short story aimed at young girls, it is still interesting to muse about such things when reading it today.

I think the strongest part of the story is Paula’s fear of wasps, which comes from a traumatic experience, and while Krishnan had nothing to do with that, he does use it to his advantage greatly afterwards. He does get a taste of his own medicine as he is attacked by wasps and left in shock. We don’t learn what happens to him after that, but I do wonder if he develops a fear of wasps as a suitable punishment! Paula’s fear is perhaps a bit quickly overcome in the end, but knowing that most of the wasp attacks were because of another person’s actions, it would make sense that when that person is gone, to feel less threatened.

The Double Life of Debbie

Plot

Debbie Hart was in trouble for not attending school so she was being supervised by Mrs Bonnington, known as Bonny, a voluntary social worker. But Bonny’s home and lifestyle were very different to Debbie’s, which led to problems, this was not helped by Bonny’s daughter, Liz,  who was out to get rid of Debbie.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Double Life of Debbie – Tracy: #72 (14 February 1981) – #83 (2 May 1981)

Teacher’s Pet [1990]

  • Teacher’s Pet  – Judy: #1574 (10 March 1990) – #1583 (12 May 1990)
  • Artist: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

Plot

Anna Norman gets on well in school until the arrival of a new teacher Miss Johnstone. Her new form teacher, starts favouring her immediately, earning Anna the name of “Teacher’s Pet” from her classmates. Even when Anna tries to get in trouble it makes things worse, such as when she is late to class she expects to be punished, like her other classmates were, but “Stoney” Johnstone just lets her away with it, and everyone else just thinks Anna’s taking advantage. When it comes time to elect a form captain Johnstone makes it clear that she thinks Anna has the right qualities for the job and commiserates with her when she lose out to Lucy. No amount of objections from Anna can convince her friends that she never wanted to be captain. It continues to get worse, on a museum trip, Johnstone implies that Anna told tales on Lucy and Anna rues the day the teacher took a liking to her. One good thing comes out of the trip is that her old friend Ros has gotten suspicious of Johnstone’s motives and points out to Anna that everything she does gets her in trouble and perhaps Johnstone doesn’t favour her at all!

Anna puts this theory test by speaking in slang to Johnstone when no one else is around, and gets a more typical “Stoney” response, but in class when she does it, Johnstone suggests she’d be perfect for reading the lead Pygmalion. She enlists Ros’s help to find out why Johnstone is doing this, Ros agrees to help but doesn’t want to get too involved for fear of losing friends. So in secret Ros and Anna start investigating Miss Johnstone, they find out where she lives and theorize that Anna may look like a sister that she dislikes. That theory is soon disproved as Johnstone is an only child. While Stoney is away for the weekend they do more snooping where she lives and gets talking to a neighbour of hers. Seeing a letter in a book she lent the neghbour, they think they have a new clue. It involves the local dramatics society and they think Stoney is upset because she lost out to a younger actress similar to Anna that also has the same name. Again this theory quickly goes nowhere, as the letter actually was Mrs Greys’, the neighbour.

Johnstone assigns Anna to the school disco committee, despite Lucy volunteering, not winning Anna any favours from the others. The theme is to be the 60s, so Anna asks to borrow some of her Dad’s records, but he won’t let his precious collection out of the house, her mom says he had them even before they met (some foreshadowing here!). Then while setting up for the disco, Anna gets in Stoney’s bad books temporarily for playing “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles. Stoney ends up scratching the record in her hurry to turn it off. Wayne, the owner of the record, blames Anna for putting it on. Ros thinks they finally have a clue to Stoney’s past and they must find out why she hates that song so much.

Things look up for Anna, when Ros introduces her to her cousin Tom and they hit it off, but of course Stoney tries to cause problems. Anna then tells her mom that she she is having problems with Miss Johnstone praising her all the time, so her mom says she will have a word with her on parents night. But on the night Johnstone leaves suddenly with a headache before meeting the Normans. Ros who has smoothed things with Tom, reckons that Stoney had a broken romance, and wanted to break Anna and Tom up, though it doesn’t explain why she’s targeting Anna specifically. She soon finds out the reason why, when they get a chance to look in Johnstone’s flat while Mrs Grey is looking after her cat. Anna finds a picture of young Johnstone with a man whose face is crossed out, but she recognises the car in the background. A visit to her grandmother and looking through old photo albums, confirms her suspicions, the man in the photo was her dad! Mr Norman had never made the connection with the name but he was once engaged to Jean Johnstone but broke it off because of her jealousy and moodiness. They contact the headmistress and Johnstone doesn’t even deny it when confronted, she is happy she took her revenge. Learning the truth her classmates are sorry for how they treated Anna, she forgives them easily as she doesn’t want to end up like Stoney holding a grudge for years.

Thoughts

This is an interesting hate campaign story, there are several things that make it stand out from similar stories. Firstly that it is an adult campaigning against the protagonist rather than a peer. Miss Johnstone is in a position of power, she abuses this terribly and has no regrets that she punishes an innocent girl for the perceived wrong doings of her father. She also doesn’t regret ruining her own career because of this. Even without her revenge plan, Miss Johnstone isn’t a nice person, she soon earns her nickname “Stoney” with her tough discipline and hard attitude. We later learn it is not just being dumped that has turned her into this bitter person (although it certainly doesn’t help!) as even as a younger woman Johnstone was prone to jealousy and moodiness. Seems Mr Norman had a lucky escape!

Another thing that makes it stand out, is that it is not clear that there is a hate campaign against Anna to begin with. Other stories have had the “friend” of the protagonist turn out to be their secret enemy, but here because of Miss Johnstone’s strategy it’s not clear there is a hate campaign. Certainly it is a devious scheme, by praising and acting like she thinks Anna is great, she causes trouble without suspicion. It is nearly half ways through the story before her motives are actually questioned. Some of the girls thoughts on why Johnstone is after Anna are a stretch (such as looking like a hated sister) but they don’t have a lot to go on, so they have to think of some reason. Anna was lucky to find the photo and recognise the car and end Johnstone’s revenge. I like that Anna’s parents are supportive too, because often adults in these stories can be dismissive, especially considering Anna’s complaints are “Johnstone’s too nice to her”! While her mother doesn’t think it can be that bad, she does say she will talk to Johnstone and when they find out who she really is, they go straight to the Headmistress.

Anna’s friends are a bit quick to judge her, even Ros at first when she agrees to help, she doesn’t stand up for her in public. This might be excused if she didn’t want to put Johnstone onto their investigation but she also says she doesn’t want to get involved and lose her friends. Although as Ros becomes more convinced of Johnstone’s motives, she does become more active in supporting Anna, even introducing her to Tom, her cousin. I’m sure Anna, as a nice person, would have forgiven all her friends anyway, but it’s good to see it tie in with Johnstone, as she doesn’t want to become a bitter, unforgiving person like her. It brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Tara’s Terrible Twin \ RoseMary

  • Tara’s Terrible Twin – Mandy: #824 (30 October 1982)  – #843 (12 March 1983)
  • Artist: Dudley Wynne
  • RoseMary – Nikki: #52 (15 February 1986) – #72 (5 July 1986)

Plot

Both of these stories involve a troublesome girl moving to a new town and pretending to be good and nice, while inventing a twin to do all the bad things she wants. Tara (in Tara’s Terrible Twin) pretends to be Terry to get back at people she thinks has done her wrong, while Rose (in RoseMary)invents Mary when she wants to cause trouble. They tell people their other twin goes to other school, because their parents want to keep them separated. They also take advantage of being the “nice twin”  and gain sympathy from classmates about having to deal with such a terrible sister. Even the way they change their looks are similar – both wear school uniforms usually, but change to casual clothes and spike up their hair as the bad twin. Although the main plot is the same, the weekly events and different endings make them distinct.

terry       mary

Tara’s Terrible Twin

Tara Young enjoys a lot of aspects of pretending to be nice, with her parents also believing she has changed, they are more lenient with her, such as allowing her to stay out late. It’s not always to her advantage though, as sometimes she ends up in situations where she has to help out, as she is supposed to be sweet and nice. Of course she gets back at the person she helped by venting as Terry, but she still gets annoyed at having to pretend to be nice at times.

tara-terrible-twin-1

In one instance, Tara has found out a classmate, Sally,  is secretly working at a fish shop. The school does not approve of pupils taking part time jobs, so when a teacher asks Sally to help with the library after school she asks Tara to cover for her. Tara not able to say no, in case she blows her cover, spends her evening working and planning her revenge on Sally.  She later visits the shop as Terry before it closes and orders loads of fish then says she doesn’t want them and thrashes the place

Tara continues to terrorize people she believes have done her wrong even when that person isn’t directly involved, such as the time a prefect scolds Tara and she gets back at her younger sister. But not everyone buys into Tara’s act and one girl, Rosemary, begins to get suspicious; if Terry doesn’t get along with Tara then why is she going after people that may have upset Tara? Rosemary gets solid evidence when she catches Terry changing back to Tara, but before she can act on it her family move suddenly when her father has to start a new job. Even after this Tara’s not in the clear as Rosemary sends a letter to her classmates to tell them what she found out but Tara manages to gets to it first and destroy it.

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This is not the only time Tara nearly gets caught.  She is again annoyed that she has to help with teas/coffees because her classmate, Fiona, has to help with her visiting cousin. She catches up with Fiona as Terry, but when she changes back into Tara she finds the cousin staring at her. She expects a big blowup at school but is surprised when everyone is still acting friendly. Then Fiona introduces Tara to her cousin, who is blind, so Tara has yet another lucky escape! Another classmate Barbara gets suspicious and tries to set up Tara, by telling her about a party and waiting to see if Terry shows up to spoil it. Tara having heard the plan knows she can’t have Terry ruin things but she does get back at Barbara later.

When it comes to class elections, Tara thinks she’s actually in with a chance as she has friends and people like her. She is jealous when Sylvia wins instead, she is so distracted by this jealousy that she ends up burning her self in cooking class. Of course she doesn’t take any responsibility for this and blames Sylvia for her accident. She thinks it is time for Sylvia to meet Terry! She is surprised that Sylvia isn’t scared of Terry and actually tries to befriend and help her. Then Sylvia sees the burn mark on Terry’s arm and knows she is Tara. She tells her to clear off, and goes home trying to think of a story to make up to explain it, it turns out her parents have news for her though – her dad has been offered a new job. Again Tara thinks she has escaped and pleased that her family have to move quickly due to the job transfer(her parents actually think she’ll be sad to leave all her friends – little do they know!).

Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t recognize the name of the town they move to – Tinsford. She immediately sets up her scheme again when meeting her new classmates telling them about her awful twin Terry. When one girl annoys her, she decides she needs to be visited by Terry, she gets a shock when the girl is surrounded by friends and they all laugh at her. Then Rosemary appears, she has told everyone about what Tara did at their last school and she is not going to get away with it here. So Tara ends up friendless and alone – a deserving punishment!

tara-terrible-twin-4

RoseMary

Rose Bolder also  takes enjoyment of using her “twin” Mary to wreck havoc, while she puts on the innocent act. She also plays up a lot on people’s sympathies with how hard it is dealing with her twin, this way she can get them to do things for her. In one episode she tears up her workbook and tells the others that Mary did it, so a sympathetic classmate allows her to copy her homework. While Rose does like scaring people, she isn’t out to intentionally hurt anyone. When one girl hurts herself running away from Mary, she thinks she didn’t mean for that to happen, but that is the only glimmer of decency we see in Rose, she is soon delighted that it means she gets a place on the hockey team instead.  Sometimes her scheme backfires on her, like her classmates deciding not to tell Rose about party or a picnic in case Mary shows up. Rose is of course very angry when she overhears the plans and makes sure Mary gets revenge, while continuing to pretend to know nothing about it herself!

rosemary-3

Like Tara, Rose also has some close calls with people nearly catching her lies. One girl is not going to tolerate being bullied without doing anything and tells Mary she will be informing her parents. Rose has to convince her parents to go out that evening so she can be there to answer the phone. She disguises her voice and reassures the girls parents that Mary will be punished. Another time all the girls decide to confront Mary, Rose tells them Mary found out about their plan and pushed her into a rockery and her parents have sent Mary away for few days. This also deters the girls from confronting Mary again as they don’t want Rose to get hurt. One girl Helen gets suspicious when Rose and Mary coincidentally get injured in same place, but Rose is too crafty and manages to turns the others against her and Helen ends up transferring schools to get away. Rose does so well at deceiving people that even on a school trip, when they run into her old classmates the others don’t believe the bad things they say about Rose and stick up for her. Another person gets suspicious, Amanda, she does not doesn’t take kindly to bullies and stands up to Mary. She also thinks Rose is very crafty so she wants to make sure she has proof to her theory before she challenges her.

Amanda finds an ally and together they trick Rose into confessing. Rose believe’s Amanda is trying to take a photo of her changing into Mary and tells her she is too smart for that, but in fact it’s a bluff by Amanda as she knew Rose would be looking for camera, she actually records their conversation. Amanda and others, go to confront Rose at  her house, she is dressed up pretending to be Mary when her mother comes home and hears everything. Mrs Bolder is upset that Rose’s attitude change has all been faked. Her parents decide the must send her to special school, where she won’t be able to pull her tricks. A few days later, the girls look on as the family move away, Rose shows no remorse, the girls feel sorry for the Bolders and Amanda also feels sorry for Rose because people like her can never really be happy.

rosemary-2

Thoughts

Certainly there were many stories with two faced girls, pretending to be nice, while really being nasty, but I don’t think there is many that actually went so far to invent a whole other person to do their dirty work! It’s not that uncommon to have similar stories but for this very specific plot to be used twice in 3 years seems a little unusual, although as they were in two different publications this could be justified! From memory, I did at first confuse the two and thought that RoseMary was a reprint of Tara’s Terrible Twin with a different artist, but it was on rereading I saw the different situations.

tara-terrible-twin-title

rosemary-title

The title’s are interesting, “Tara’s Terrible Twin” keeps up the traditional use of alliteration, and I like the “RoseMary” title particularly for it’s clever title card, that distinguishes the two names. Both stories are quite episodic throughout the run, (probably due t their long length 20 and 21 episodes respectively) but have good strong endings. Overall I think Tara’s Terrible Twin has the slight edge,  the use of Rosemary suspecting Tara over several issues is quite effective, especially as she ends up being her downfall in the end, after making the reader think that she was no longer a problem for Tara. Meanwhile Rose has some close calls but the ongoing suspicion from Amanda is only at the end, you get the feeling that Rose’s downfall is close, though there was a nice build up so it wasn’t just wrapped up in the last episode.

rosemary5

I also like how Tara ends up having to give up her time to help people  because of her nice act. She is a very selfish person and any problems she blames on others, such as being “forced” to help. She shows ambition too and seems to think she is deserving more than she gets, such as when she wants to win student council. She is jealous of Sylvia and doesn’t see why she should win over her. It’s clear to the reader why Sylvia would win as she is a genuine and considerate person, which is proven when she actually tries to reach out to Terry and support her. It could have been interesting if  Tara had accepted her help, even after her secret was revealed. Instead she is happy to escape to a new town, where she ends up alone and the one chance that someone could have taken the time and help redeem her is gone.

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In RoseMary, throughout the story – Rose, while she does get back at people she believes wronged her, she doesn’t seem to be as vindictive as Tara and let her anger fester, she really just seems to get most enjoyment from causing trouble. Like Tara she does show some ambition as she enjoys sport and does want to get onto the hockey team. Not only does she not show any regard for her classmates, she has no sympathy for her parents either. Again she only thinks about what she can get from them and doesn’t care that they are upset and disappointed in her when her lies are revealed.

Both girls get the ending deserving to them, they’ve caused so much trouble the reader must be happy to see the girls get what’s coming to them. Still there can’t be a complete feeling of satisfaction by the endings, as the last panels show reasons the readers should sympathize. In Tara’s Terrible Twin the last panel (along with the closing caption) shows Tara looking dejected and alone, leading us to think she may not be as tough and uncaring as she likes to portray. In contrast, Rose still has an uncaring attitude at the end she believes even in a new school she’s clever enough to outsmart the teachers, the readers must feel bad for her parents at least, but even Amanda expresses that girls like Rose are also deserving of our pity.

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Captain Carol (1997)

Captain Carol logo.jpg

Published: Bunty #2045 (22 March 1997) – #2054 (24 May 1997)

Artist: Unknown

Plot

At St Jade’s Boarding School, Carol Davies and Fiona Mathieson are best friends. One day voting forms go out for School Captain. Fiona wins the post, which gives her privileges such as a whole study to herself. Carol, who was runner-up, is appointed Fiona’s deputy. On parents’ day, Mrs Davies finds her watch has been stolen and then it falls out of Fiona’s pocket. Fiona says she does not know how it got there, but is expelled for theft and Carol takes her place as School Captain.

Before Fiona leaves, she proclaims her innocence to Carol and her other friends. They believe that someone framed her and agree to help her prove her innocence. To this end, Fiona is going to a local boarding school, Hallcote Lawn, which will enable her to stay close by so she can check up on progress, any potential developments in the investigation, and exchange clues.

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It turns out that it was Carol who had framed Fiona because, of course, she wanted the School Captain’s job. However, this is not revealed to the reader for several episodes. Still, there were small clues in the first episode, such as Carol not looking happy when the girls say they expected she voted for Fiona. In the meantime we see Carol do subtle things that, after the revelation, we realise were attempts to derail and misdirect the investigation.

First, Carol has word about Fiona’s expulsion spread to Hallcote Lawn by telling another St. Jade’s girl who is transferring there. As planned, Fiona becomes an outcast at her new school. But instead leaving Hallcote Lawn as Carol suggests, Fiona bravely stays on in order to stay close to the girls’ investigation. Then Carol drops a suggestion to the girls that Fiona had actually committed the theft in order to go to Hallcote Lawn, where fees are cheaper, but the girls don’t buy it. She drops another hint that a teacher did it because she was jealous of Fiona’s aunt getting a job she wanted, but the teacher is soon cleared of suspicion.

Then, a mention of pickpockets in Fiona’s English class has her realise that the culprit acted like a pickpocket in reverse – slipping the watch into her pocket instead of taking something out of it. So the culprit has to be someone who got close enough to her for that. Fiona draws up a list of people who would have gotten close enough to her to plant the watch on her and passes it over to the girls. It is this point that it is revealed to the reader that Carol is the culprit. Once this is established, the story puts full focus on her. It openly shows Carol trying to sabotage the investigation, her ruthlessness and underlying desperation in holding onto her position, and also shows her thought bubbles.

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The girls begin to realise that Carol had the strongest motive for getting Fiona expelled – getting the captaincy. Carol deflects suspicion by faking her study being wrecked by an unknown enemy. As planned, this leads the girls to think that the same person is after Carol now. Later, Carol tries to plant evidence for it on another girl. Fortunately it founders and the girl is soon cleared of framing Fiona.

Fiona sneaks back to school, telling Carol she wants to speak to a girl who may be a potential witness. But when they try to hide from the headmistress, she discovers Fiona when Carol “sneezes”. The headmistress throws Fiona out, but is so furious with Carol that her captaincy is put on the line. Carol soon finds a way to get back into the headmistress’ good books; there is no way she is going to lose her captaincy.

Carol has another close call when the girls discover a father made a video of the parents’ day. But when they review the tape they discover it got accidentally taped over. Carol is safe again.

But not for long – a new girl, Kirsty MacPherson arrives, and she happens to have seen Carol slip the watch on Fiona when she and her parents visited on the parents’ day. Once Kirsty discovers why Carol did it, she starts blackmailing her. Carol gives in to Kirsty because she just has to hold onto her captaincy.

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The blackmail does not last long because the next episode is the final one. Carol comes to realise that as long as Fiona persists with the other girls in proving her innocence, they will keep investigating and her secret will never be safe. If Fiona were removed altogether, the girls would soon give up. So at a chess tournament with Hallcote Lawn Carol tries to get Fiona expelled from her new school by using the same trick as before. But when the alarm is raised, the search does not find the stolen item in Fiona’s pocket where Carol planted it. Instead, it is found in Carol’s bag! Carol is so astonished that she openly declares it is impossible because she planted it on Fiona – OOOPS!

Fiona then explains she put the item in Carol’s bag after feeling Carol slip it into her pocket and tells Carol that she is too heavy-handed for tricks like that. Carol retorts that she is not, saying that was precisely what she did with the watch on that fateful parents’ day and Fiona did not notice.

Now the truth is well and truly out, Carol is expelled and Fiona is reinstated to her old school and position as School Captain.

Thoughts

There have been many stories where a best friend becomes a secret worst enemy when the heroine is promoted at school. Stories where this has happened include “The Captain’s Friend” (Tracy) and “In Petra’s Place” (Bunty). In most cases they just try to make the heroine look too irresponsible to have the promotion and don’t go as far as trying to get her expelled. But getting her own best friend expelled for a crime she did not commit is precisely what Carol does. This puts on her on a low that far exceeds the depravity of most schemers. We have seen other girls try to get another expelled, such as “’I’ll Take Care of Tina!’” (Mandy) but they are usually either just out for misguided revenge or are already nasty schemers whom we cannot expect much of. But a best friend? That is beyond the pale. So Carol Davies must rank as one of the most despicable schemers in the history of girls’ comics. Moreover, there is no hint of remorse or shame that could redeem her in any way. Sure, Carol says (to herself) that she did not like to do what she did to Fiona, but she had to because she wanted the job so much and this was the only way to get it. It may or may not be her self-reasoning to ease a guilty conscience, but she never gives any real impression that she is feeling in any way guilty about what she did. Furthermore, she has no compunction in trying it again (which is her undoing) or in trying to shift the blame onto others in the course of the girls’ investigations.

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Having another girl discovering Carol’s secret and start blackmailing her is a surprise twist that is left so underdeveloped. It had the potential to be spun out for more episodes and add more turns and twists that would have made the story even more exciting. And it would have been really interesting to see where Kirsty’s blackmail would lead if it had been developed more. Would it have ended in Carol being discovered? Or would Carol try a frame-up on Kirsty to get her expelled and out of the way? The possibilities are so tantalising. Instead, the blackmail only lasted one episode and left on a thread that was not tied up before the final episode, which is really annoying. Maybe the writer intended to take the blackmail angle further but then the editor gave the order to end the story.

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When considering Fiona and her quest to prove her innocence, we get the impression there is an untold story here that would have made an interesting and popular serial if told in its entirety. In the brief glimpses we see of Fiona as she pops back to check on progress we can see her courage and persistence shine through. There are also hints and mentions of mental anguish as she tells the detective team she is going through hell at her new school because they think she’s a thief. In the final episode a girl reports back that Fiona is now really desperate, and most likely this is because she has reached breaking point. Just imagine what a powerful and emotional serial this would have made if the story had been told from Fiona’s point of view and we could see it all for ourselves.

I’ll Get Rid of Rona! (1980)

I'll Get Rid of Rona logo

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

Artist: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Changing Places

  • Changing Places–  Bunty:  #1806 (22 August 1992) – #1820 (28 November 1992)
  • Reprinted: Bunty #2210 (20 May 2000) – #2224 (26 August 2000)

Plot

Lady Anne Bannerman meets Anne Brown on the train to her new boarding school. The two hit it off so when Brown suggests that for a laugh they could switch places for a little bit as they have similar names Bannerman agrees. Soon Bannerman isn’t happy when she hears Brown getting people to call her Lady Anne. She confronts Brown telling her its time to reveal the truth but Brown is not going to switch back as she knows Bannerman’s secret.  Anne’s brother was fired on accusations of being a thief and her family paid off employees to keep it hidden. So Bannerman is blackmailed into keeping quiet.

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Not only does Brown use the Lady title to her benefit, she also makes Bannermans life difficult, she makes her give her all her money, copies her work and she doesn’t want her having any friends. She isn’t happy when Bannerman becomes friendly with scholarship girl Eileen. She forces Bannerman to blow her off. Of course all the girls think Bannerman is a snob trying to stay close with a “Lady”.   Other than two girls Lucille and Myrna, everyone is fed up of “Lady Anne’s” boasting

Other than dealing with Brown’s nastiness, Bannerman has to figure out  how to stop people finding out the truth when problems arise. Such as when her Great-Aunt decides to visit, she has to meet her outside the school, or when Anne Brown’s parents visit and she has to hide in the bushes until Brown comes back. Another close encounter is on a school trip when Bannerman runs into old classmates. She introduces them to Anne Brown so when classmates see Brown waving them off as well as Bannerman they just think Bannerman is sucking up except for Eileen who is suspicious. She is not ready to give up on Bannerman as she finds her quite the different person on the hockey field and thinks there is something up with Brown and Bannermans friendship. Brown decides Eileen is getting too close and frames her for stealing a bracelet so she gets suspended.

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Even when Bannerman gets a chance to go home she doesn’t get a break as Brown forces her to invite her along. Although her parents aren’t fooled by Brown’s compliments and wonder why their Anne is friends with her. Things get worse for Bannerman as she is sent to coventry . Meanwhile Brown isn’t happy when during a charity run Lucille and Myrna tells a photographer from the local newspaper that Brown is a lady. Bannerman tells her not to worry nobody will know her locally. It seems she’s wrong as a friend of Jamie, her brother sees the paper and sends a clipping to him. Jamie arrives in time to overhear Brown trying to blackmail his sister into stealing things.  They’ve attracted a crowd from the school so Brown spitefully tells them that Jamie is a thief, but he corrects her as he was cleared of all charges that morning. Brown is expelled and Anne is able to tell the head about Eileen being set up and let’s Lucille and Myrna she isn’t interested and having people like them as friends.

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Thoughts

A common trope of a girl being blackmailed in order to protect their family,   The Honourable S.J., Sandra’s Sad Secret, Be Nice to Nancy and others follow this theme. There are a few differences in this story though. Anne Brown is similar to S.J. in personality but she is not a wealthy person using her influential powers to get her on way and take advantage of those with less than her. Instead it is the person with money, Anne Bannerman that is trying to protect her family. Another difference is that they’ve switched identities so not only does Bannerman have to do what Brown says she can’t even be herself. Being tricked into being someone else has appeared elsewhere often more in a historical context such as The Imposter. Still a combination of things make this story work well even if it’s not doing a lot of new things.

Obviously Brown hasn’t thought of a long term plan or problems that arise from being someone else. In one instance a teacher finds their work is copied off each other, Brown tells Bannerman she can take the blame, but she points out that will go on Brown’s report card. So Bannerman is able to come on up on top in that instance. Bannerman does try to look out for other pupils such as when flowers are going to be presented to a duchess, she lies to Brown saying she knows her and that Brown will have to hide while a young pupil gets to give the flowers to her instead.

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Bannerman’s parents seem like nice people so it’s surprising that Anne didn’t confide in them but considering how they handled Jamie’s accusations maybe they wouldn’t have been the best! I can understand they felt they were helping covering up for Jamie and didn’t want to risk the family reputation but it made him look guilty and like they didn’t trust him.

It’s quite lengthy at 15 episodes, and can be formulaic in that a situation comes up where the girl’s true identity may be discovered, Bannerman is reminded of her family problems and Brown gets money/work from Bannerman. But it’s nicely done, the art is good, everyone having distinct looks and it is well paced.