Tag Archives: science fiction

Force of Evil [1985-1986]

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

Episodes: 12

Artist: Andy Tew

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin for help with episodes and scans

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lona the Wonder Girl

  • Lona the Wonder Girl–  Bunty: #926 (11 October 1975) – #951 (03 April 1976)
  • Reprinted as Wonder Girl – Lucky Charm: #18 (1982)
  • Artist: Robert MacGillivray

Plot

Lona Neal was abandoned as a baby and adopted by a group of scientists. They think she will be perfect test subject as even as a baby her endurance and intelligence is evident. The scientists keep her secluded and raise her to be the perfect human specimen.  There experiments can be harsh, such as when she can draw with her right hand, they make a pen that won’t work unless she uses her left hand and when she cries that she is hungry, they don’t respond in order for her  her to learn independence by finding her own food from the fruit trees outside. Only one of the scientist, Dr Hilda, appears to see her more than an experiment, praising her and showing concern at some of the harsher lessons. When Lona’s guardians feel they have taught her all they can, they send her off to an exclusive boarding school to see how she does in the outside world and prove their experiment a success.

Charlton College is a competitive school for the best and brightest. While Lona is smart in many ways, her guardians did not teach her about people and ways of the world.  Therefore the other girls actually think she’s a bit thick, strange and often interpret her special abilities wrongly. Like when she takes part in a swimming competition, she decides to swim under water as it is the clearer path. But the games mistress jumps in to rescue her,  as she thinks Lona must be drowning because no-one could hold their breath that long and the girls all think she lied about being able to swim. Another teacher also thinks she must have cheat on test, because she couldn’t finish it so quickly. The girls in her class wonder how she doesn’t understand slang like “bighead” and “to stick up for yourself”. When Lona gets in bully Mildred’s bad books, the girls are irked that Lona lets Mildred push her around. When things go wrong Lona remembers the lessons her guardians taught her.She always prefers to try peaceful method and thinks if confrontation is needed it should be done privately.

Lona would like a chance to play on the tennis team for an upcoming tournament but is denied because again she is not understood when she says she’s never played against a human (as she had learned to play against a robot, Bertie). She does get her chance though when several of the players come down with the flu. At first she finds people can be harder to play against than a robot, as they are more “deceptive”. When she learns her opponents moves she does end up winning. Finally her classmates are impressed and want her to accept the challenge of bighead school champion Celia. Lona does eventually accept, but thinks when Celia sets time for a match she means 12 midnight rather than 12 noon. She thinks it is not right to brag and therefore midnight is good time as they will be able to play in private. She goes to wake Celia up as she thinks she has forgotten. Celia wakes everyone else up, not interested in a private match. But then Celia gets nervous and doesn’t want to take the chance of losing, so she asks friends to distract Lona. Tricks like shining light in her eyes, don’t work and its clear that Lona will win, until the principal interrupts. While the whole school were behind Lona to win, seeing her not stand up for herself against Celia and call her out on the tricks she pulled, makes them exasperated with Lona again.

Lona has heightened hearing, so when the girls say things about her, they don’t realise she will be hurt by the comments. Feeling very dejected, Lona decides to runaway back home, but is surprised her guardians have abandoned the house. Deciding there are some things she must solve alone, like her guardians taught her, she goes back to the school. Tired from all her walking, she actually sleeps in and is grumpy in the morning. The girls think maybe she is normal after all, but she quickly reverts to her old ways. Mildred is still especially annoyed with Lona, even after she saves the class from lightning. Mildred does notice Lona is desperate for a friend and uses this to play tricks on her, making her do a ton of prep. Lona does start making progress with making friends, firstly a girl with allergies, Fiona, takes Lona’s advise about getting rid of chemicals. This turns out to be a good thing, because it turns out she was having a bad reaction to a nasal spray. She also makes friends with Mary, who encourages her to have more fun. Even the teachers are coming around and she gets a place on the gymnastics team.

Mildred isn’t happy that she is made reserve on the gymnastics team, but also doesn’t take well to Lona offering her place. Mary says Lona needs to be more human and stop always trying to be perfect; she should tell a lie, have fun!Lona begins to doubt herself and her guardians and loses some of her poise She tries to loosen up going to concert with Mary, and it seems Mary was right as more girls are being friendlier to her now. But because of Lona’s heightened senses, the noise and smoke is too much and she runs off. Mildred notices and makes a note of this weakness. She use this to her advantage at the gymnastics display, getting her father to blow smoke at Lona. Lona is also disconcerted as she thinks one of the professors is there but she is mistaken and the the loudspeaker announcing her makes her sensitive. All these things cause Lona to lose her concentration and fall. Then her coach tells her to push everything from her mind, she relies on her lessons and she makes a great recovery.

During the break between events, Mary invites Lona out with her family, Lona is upset when Mary asks her to share the secret of her strength as she thinks now Mary only wants her friendship because of that. Before the next event some girls mock her preparation and again Lona loses her concentration. She has to take some time to dismiss her emotions to recover. Mildred is mad and jealous because despite her mistakes, Lona gets a loud applause.  Her jealously goes so far that she pushes a flower pot on Lona. Lona refuses doctor but soon finds her vision blurring. Still she manages the next event through feel only. The selectors for the British team in the audience are impressed with her talent and recovery, so put her on short list. Mildred is disappointment though her father reassures her she’s the greatest to him. Hearing this Lona feels lonely wishing she had parents that cared for her. Then she spots Dr Hilda but she runs away before Lona gets a chance to talk to her. Mary is blunt, telling her that her guardians have caused nothing but heartache. Marys family propose adopting her, but Lona’s head injury acts up and she is diagnosed with a concussion. At this stage she is tired of being strong and is getting more ill, only the arrival of Dr Hilda encourages her to fight again. Dr Hilda says the other scientists blame her for the failure of the experiment as she was too sentimental with Lona. Lona is determined to prove them wrong, and now with renewed strength, begins to excel at everything, including becoming a swimming and gymnastic champion. While playing violin solo at parents day, Lona is delighted her guardians have come. Her guardians are to take her home but no more experiments, she can come back to the school as a normal girl.

Thoughts

With the Wonder Woman film release, I thought it would be good to look at a British Wonder Girl. [Note: There have been several Wonder Girls in  of the American DC comics the first appearance of the DC Wonder Girl was actually the adventures of a teenage Wonder Woman, another writer thought Wonder Girl was separate person and added her onto the Teen Titans team, so she had to have a new backstory developed, that Wonder Girl became Donna Troy]. I assume DCT  were able to get away with stories called Wonder Girl (and Supergirl) because the characters themselves were different from their American namesakes. Lona does show some similarities to Wonder Woman (film version), she has compassion, wanting to make peace, and shows some naivety of outside world, they are even both unfamiliar with ice cream! But she has more in common with another British Wonder Girl Jay Smith from Mandy. Both Lona and Jay are raised by scientists to be a peak of their abilities. They have heightened senses, endurance, excel at sports and academia. Jay has a good relationship with her guardian Harriet Dene and is happy to put her abilities to the test against others. Though her abilities set her apart she doesn’t feel lonely. Lona on the other hand longs for friendship and though she should be top of everything, her actions are often misinterpreted.

Throughout the story there are flashbacks, which show how she interacted with her guardians, lessons she learned and they also show, even when younger, she was in search for friendship and connections. Dr Hilda is certainly shown to be the most emotionally attached of the guardians, Lona as a younger child even asks her to pretend to be her mummy. Lona is a very sympathetic character, you can certainly see her loneliness (well demonstrated by the expressive art of Robert MacGillivray) and also the conflict of trying to do her best all the time like her guardians taught her. The problem with this, is it isolates her from the other students, they don’t understand her strange ways. The scientists don’t put much stock in teaching Lona social skills or humour, this ends up being her downfall. While they think emotions make her soft and she won’t be able to excel, it is not possible for Lona to completely push aside her emotions and this is her downfall. When finally she knows that Dr Hilda cares, that is what pushes her to do her best, proving the other scientists wrong.

The ending seemed a bit quick, the scientists decide no more experiments as Lona has proven successful across the board, but we never see any reactions from them. Some plot points seem to be dropped too, like Mary’s want to find out the “secret” to Lona’s strength, while Lona suspects her friendship isn’t so genuine, next Mary’s parents are offering to adopt her! These plots are never developed. Also Fiona is never mentioned again, possibly she was still in hospital? As I only have the Lucky Charm version, it is possible that there have been parts edited out of the original which may have developed these plots more. A more satisfying supporting character is Mildred, we see her annoyance then jealousy of Lona build up to the point where she causes injury to Lona. While she never apologizes,  she does look guilty after injuring Lona. While she may want Lona’s skill, she doesn’t appreciate she has something Lona longs for – a loving parent.  The ending is satisfying with Lona now happy, she has a caring family that are proud of her and she has the chance to return to school as a normal girl with friends.

The Frightening Fours

  • The Frightening Fours  Judy + Emma:  #1027 (15 Sep. 1979) – #1038 (01 Dec. 1979)
  • Artist: Paddy Brennan

 

Plot

In Midham Village, Sally Barnes has taken her four year old brother, Billy, on a picnic, when he suddenly gets scared by a large Black Cloud. Sally agrees to take him home but on the way she gets stopped by her friend Lila, who has found her parents unconscious. Sally leaves Billy with Lila and her young brother Roger, while she goes to the doctor’s for help. She arrives at his house only to find him and his wife unconscious too.  Soon it’s apparent that all the adults in the village are unconscious, not only that, but the phones are not working and when Terry one of the teens tries to leave the village to get help, he returns alone, dazed and speechless. The remaining people in the village gather in the church and establish that the only people not affected is those between the ages of 4 and 15. Then Billy arrives holding a gun at everyone telling them they are going to do what “the Fours” tell them.

frightening fours_1

The next episode, Billy claims he was just playing a game. Not suspicious yet, Sally, Lila and Andy take the lead over the group. Some of the group are going to patrol to village gathering up the four year olds that seemed to have run off,  while the others cycle for help. To get to the next village they take a short cut along a cliff road, but they are stopped when a rock is pushed down on them, causing a landslide. Luckily no one is injured but Lila saw the rock was pushed by a furry hand, and the others see strange shadows watching. This leads to the theory that there are creatures on the cliff, possibly even aliens!

They all gather back at the village to discuss what could be happening. Lila and Sally talk about how their brothers started acting strange and older after they saw the Black Cloud. The creatures they saw on the cliff remind Sally of the Teddy Bear Picnic costumes from a play the school had put on. Billy arrives armed, with Roger. He tells Sally she’s finally figured it out.  Andy tries to take the gun off him, but it seems not only has he grown in intellect, but also in strength. They do overpower him momentarily but Roger calls for reinforcements. The Fours come wearing the teddy bear costumes and threaten to shoot anyone who resists. The group are taken to a cave, there is nothing they can do for now so they try to sleep. Meanwhile, the Fours tell what is happening to their master…the Black Cloud.

frightening fours_3

The next day Sally’s group are led to  a furnace to start working on parts for a machine, Billy explains the machine will prepare the earth for their masters arrival, by destroying the “poisonous” oxygen. They are forced to work, but Andy convinces the Fours that they need to at least bring blankets back to cave. After discovering their parents have been put in storage until the completed machine will kill them, Andy points out that the Fours will die too, when the machine is turned on. But they trust in the Cloud. Sally, Lila and Andy manage to use the blankets to sew costumes and sneak past the Fours. They cycle to a nearby village but they don’t find safety, only more Fours. Captured by the Fours they are saved by a group of rebels. Taken back to their base the trio meet the guerrilla leader, Rory, whom Andy knows from playing football.  The group have a radio, but when Andy suggests contacting someplace outside of Britain, they are informed the whole world is affected.

frightening fours_8

 

Soon after a Four arrives at the base, his name is Bruce, the group are cautious at first but it turns out his birthday is the next day, so the Cloud’s effect is wearing off, turning him into scared kid again. They do manage to get some information from him, knowing the machines are being put together in the mines.  The rebels come up with a plan, Sally, Lila and Andy are to go back to  Midham and trick the Fours into trusting them to get closer to the machine. They have to betray friends in order to gain trust  but it works and they are sent to work near the machine.

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While working in the mine an alarm sounds, Sally thinks at first that Rory hasn’t waited for their signal to attack but it turns out to be a bunch of Fours on horseback. It seems the Middleton Cloud has sensed an invasion in the mine. They avoid being spotted and Sally manages to take a part from machine. Meanwhile  Andy and Lila launch the attack signal. Knowing what Sally has done, Billy orders her to be found and executed. Luckily the guerrilla’s strike distracts them, so Sally escapes. Unfortunately her freedom doesn’t last long as  Billy and some Fours take her, Lila and Andy prisoner.  They try to use them as bargaining to try stop the attack. Sally shouts out to Rory that their lives don’t matter, stopping the Cloud is more important.

After regrouping and some discussion Rory comes to the hard decision that they have to sacrifice Sally and the others, and move on with the plan.  The machines are all connected though and with one link broken the Black Cloud is weakened, giving more guerrilla groups the chance to attack. The Black Cloud tells Billy he must repair the machine, Sally tells the Cloud, it can kill them but more humans will take their place and they will never stop fighting for Earth. The Cloud questions Billy can the planet not be enslaved…but the hold on the Fours is weakened and Billy doesn’t understand such big words. The Clouds seem to be called back into space by their superiors.  All over the world celebrations are had and the adults wake up to greet their children.

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Thoughts

This is a story I’ve been meaning to do for a while, as it is one of my favorites.  It captured attention from the start; “It was Sally Barnes four year old brother who first saw the Black Cloud – at least, he was the first one from  Midham Village”  rare for an open caption box to be so intriguing in its set up.  The whole first episode is well paced and the last panel with the threat of teddy bears the next week, kept me wanting to read more. Although the next episode when Billy says it was a game, doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially as the Fours need to reveal themselves if they want to get the others to work for the Cloud. Although he could have been just testing to see how they would react in order to prepare for the real reveal. Odd as well, is the amount of guns available for these kids (on both sides) in these small villages!

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Each episode built up the tension, as we find out the Clouds plans and how widespread the invasion is. What we see in Midham is only a glimpse, as there must be struggles all over the world. The Fours are threatening enough, but also the looming presence of the Black Cloud, sensing when they cause trouble. It is interesting  that while we see the ominous Black Clouds controlling the Fours… we never see who is directing Clouds. Who are the mysterious beings who can’t live on an oxygen world and have ordered the Black Clouds to prepare the world for them. That implies some hierarchy on their home world.

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It is odd that the last episode was only 2 pages long, the story wraps up well but it does feel like an extra page could have expanded on some things, after the sudden departure of the Clouds. The art is great throughout, whether it large detailed panels such as the youths working on the machine in the mine, or the close up panels showing the emotions the protagonists are feeling. There are some nice moments where Sally reminds Billy of happier times and he slips back to his old self but it never lasts long.

This story tackles some heavy moments, the children are fighting with guns, there is repeated threats of death and big fight scenes that would have to leave someone injured. There have been many alien invasion stories, but I can’t think of one that had such wide scale repercussions. Often aliens invasion stories were more covert and subtle by having someone undercover prepare for the invasion, such as in Electra and the Evil Eye or Starla’s Spell.  Or the invasion starts off with a small test group, like another story; Simon, that also used children in an invasion plan. This story the aliens have attacked the whole world at once. This gives our protagonists even more difficult obstacles to overcome, with all the adults put to sleep, they have no-one to turn to only themselves. They have to make difficult decisions and there is a sense even though there is a happy ending they will be still changed by their experiences and their choices.

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Pinkie (1989)

Plot

Mary Wilmer’s sister Babs gains the power to shrink – at unpredictable moments – after an accident in Dad’s laboratory. Mary dubs her “Pinkie” as when she shrinks she is no bigger than Mary’s little finger.

Pinkie

Notes

  • Artist: Douglas Perry

Appeared

  • Pinkie – Bunty: #1643 (8 July 1989) – #1651 (2 September 1989)

Other Appearances:

  • Pinkie – Bunty Annual 1991

The Black Marks

Plot

Four girls at Scotford School became suddenly affected by strange black marks which appeared on their wrists. At the same time, they developed superhuman strength and an ability to run at great speed. Professor Burton, investigating the mystery, traced the girls to a lonely house in grounds guarded by a special fence and wild cheetahs. Carrie Norton volunteered to go in and investigate the house, where she discovered that the girls were being controlled by a man whose face she glimpsed on a close-circuit television network.

black marks

Notes

Appeared

  • The Black Marks – Judy: (?) – #525 (31 January 1970)

The School beneath the Dome

Plot:

Two alien women, Deimos and Phobos, imprison Marlborough Girls’ High School in a transparent dome in order to study human education. Deanna Darwin, captain of the Fifth Form, is determined to defeat the aliens. But she has to contend with things like the aliens encasing her in a magnetic force field so she cannot eat or touch anything, and the weird effects the imprisonment seems to be having on the girls.

Notes:

  • Art: Emilio Frejo

Appeared:

  • The School beneath the Dome –  Bunty: #414 (18 Dec. 1965) – #428 (26 Mar. 1966)

The Secret of the Red Balloons

Plot

Children are mysteriously going missing. Jo Baker and her friend Jean Simpson discover that a man at a fair is selling red balloons that children can inflate to such sizes that they are literally flying away on them. Jo is shocked to see that one of the latest children to fly away is her sister Lucy.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Secret of the Red Balloons –  Bunty: 1969. No publication dates currently available.