Appeared: Debbie: #273 (6 May 1978) – #284 (22 July 1978) (Spellbound section)
Artist: George Martin
Special thanks to “Phoenix” for help with episodes
Patti Parker is a promising tennis player but doesn’t have killer instinct. She can’t bear the thought of people losing to her, so she deliberately lets them win. Everyone at her club knows this, and they tell her it’s annoying.
Isadora Glenn sees this, and immediately decides Patti as the one she is looking for. She is the half-sister of Sylvia Radford, the most famous British tennis player who died in strange circumstances. She tricks Patti into her house and then gives her Sylvia’s racquet to replace the one she “accidentally” broke. As Patti takes the racquet, a strange spell comes over her. She comes over all dizzy and passes out. A woman’s voice tells Patti that when she feels the strength of Sylvia’s will upon her she will surrender herself…Sylvia’s hand will be on that racquet, giving Patti strength and determination…and through her Sylvia will play again…
So the power of the racquet is going to teach Patti to stop being so lenient and cultivate a competitive streak if she is to be the best she can be, and deliberately letting people win really is not really doing them good? Not on your life.
From the outset it is obvious that the power is evil, though its full power is not apparent at first. Its true power takes over gradually and intensifies over time, as does the manipulation and control of Isadora Glenn. It’s almost hypnotic, the way Isadora talks Patti into doing whatever she wants when Patti is having qualms of conscience at being obsessed with tennis to the point of hurting everything and everyone else, or being put off tennis because of it. When Patti neglects her grandmother’s funeral (and the Glenn influence was responsible for the grandmother’s death) her relatives are furious. Isadora seizes her chance to have Patti move in with her altogether, where Patti will be totally under her power.
The end result is, whenever Patti plays with the racquet, she does turn into a world-class champion, playing the way Sylvia played. But she’s also behaving the way Sylvia did on the tennis court, which would make John McEnroe look like a mild-mannered gentleman: a bullying, bad-tempered, vicious tennis player who is capable of anything against those who interfere with her on the tennis court.
This makes Patti a lot of enemies, and a very bad reputation. People say she is acting just like Sylvia Radford. Patti is very frightened and confused; she can’t understand what’s going on, especially as she’s not like that all the time. This is, of course, because when she’s not holding the racquet she is her normal kind self, but once she picks it up again she is back to the abusive Radford conduct. It’s hard convincing others that it’s something she doesn’t mean or understand, and she comes across like Jekyll and Hyde to them. It’s something the English selectors are very nervous about, and they decline to choose Patti to represent England.
Meanwhile Patti’s coach, Jane Marsh, has spotted a sly, evil look in Isadora’s eyes after Patti’s Radford conduct ruins a famous tennis player and she runs off in tears. Jean now realises she must investigate Isadora to find out what’s going on.
Another player, Rita Evans, asks Patti to be her doubles player in Bermuda. Isadora allows it, hoping it will change the selectors’ minds, as Rita is ranked number two. But Isadora still wants Patti to be chosen as a singles player, so she has Patti damage Rita’s hand so she will go to the finals as a singles player.
At the same match Jane learns something from a reporter. Isadora had dabbled in voodoo, which caused a scandal for her respectable family. She and Sylvia had to leave the district in disgrace and they set out for England. As we see more of Isadora’s thought bubbles we learn this was why Sylvia behaved so badly too, and Isadora is using both Sylvia and Patti as extensions of herself on the tennis court. She, not them, is the true badass tennis player.
Jane consults a voodooist, who knew Isadora from childhood. The voodooist says Isadora has possessed Patti and will eventually drive her to destruction. Patti will lose all will of her own until she resorts to self-destruction (we presume that means suicide) to escape from Isadora’s power. Jane realises this must be the way Sylvia went.
Jane became separated from Patti when her car went mysteriously out of control. Only Patti’s action saved her from death, but Jane was hospitalised while Patti went to play eliminating matches in Rome. By the time Jane catches up with Patti she sees things are worse than ever. She tries to pull Patti away, tell her what’s going on, and says she’s taking Patti back to England. Isadora has tried to poison Patti against Jane, saying Jane is just jealous. But as that didn’t work, at customs Isadora pulls another trick – framing Jane for smuggling undeclared goods. Jane is arrested while Isadora conveys Patti to Wimbledon for the finals.
Patti is now deeply frightened at her inexplicable conduct and hurting people without understanding why, and thinks there is some dark side taking over, but doesn’t realise what. As usual, it doesn’t take much for Isadora to smooth over those fears and drive her on relentlessly, but Jane realises that Patti could crack under it all.
Back in jail, Jane gets a reporter friend, Ruth, interested in her story, and Ruth helps her make bail. Isadora finds this out and spirits Patti away into hiding, and Jane can’t find her. She has little choice but to jump bail in order to get to Patti at Wimbledon. When the bail jump is discovered the police head out to Wimbledon in pursuit of Jane.
At Wimbledon, the evil racquet is having Patti put on her worst unsporting performance yet; it’s almost hysterical, and the commentator is having a ball describing the antics of the “vicious-tempered killer of the courts”. However, Patti’s rival is unimpressed and says she won’t be intimidated.
Jane finally clicks about the racquet. During the match she switches it with another while Patti isn’t looking and destroys it. Isadora sees the switch but can’t do anything about it. Her urging at Patti to win the match in Sylvia’s name is useless too. Without the racquet, Patti no longer behaves like Sylvia. The trouble is, she can’t play like Sylvia either. She is back to her own tennis level, which is nowhere near Wimbledon standard. She is soundly beaten and loses the championship Isadora wanted her to win in Sylvia’s name.
In the changing room Isadora rages at Jane about foiling her, and how Patti will be “nothing” instead of a world champion. Jane confronts her over how she drove Sylvia to her death, the way she almost did Patti. Isadora admits to framing Jane at customs but now wishes she had killed her instead. She also says she was behind the car crash in Bermuda, and will now use even more voodoo to have her revenge on both Jane and Patti. However, Isadora does not realise that she has walked into a trap set by Jane. As planned, the police and Ruth overhear everything. The police take Isadora in, setting the stage for clearing Jane. Ruth is delighted at the scoop.
Not surprisingly, Patti wants to quit tennis after this. However, Jane persuades her otherwise, saying she has what it takes to become a champion in her own right. And she will help Patti to get there.
A number of tennis stories about bad-tempered/ badly behaved tennis players have appeared in girls’ comics, and it looks like John McEnroe was an influence. Among them were “Pat the Brat” (Bunty), and “Cross on Court”, “Backhand Billie” and “Double – Or Nothing!”, all from Tammy. But this one turns it into an evil influence story, which was unusual for a sports serial.
Unlike other protagonists in the stories mentioned above the bad behaviour is no fault of the girl’s own. She can’t understand it, is increasingly frightened of it, and as it intensifies she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Unlike many protagonists under an evil influence she does not catch on, try to get help, or try to break away from it, despite Jane’s efforts. But from what the voodooist said, Patti really can’t escape from the power on her own. The power will just intensify until suicide is the only escape. She remains under the dominance of Isadora. It takes another person to make all the proactive moves to break her free. For this reason Patti does not grow all that much and the story does not develop her character that much. Other heroines grow in courage, strength and whole new ways of life by breaking free of the evil influence controlling them, but not Patti. We also expect Patti to be less of a softie and have more steel in playing tennis by the end of the story, but we don’t see that either. Instead, she’s all set to quit and it takes Jane’s coaxing to get her to carry on.
It’s Jane the coach who does the growing and the character development, and all makes all the proactive moves to bring the story to its resolution. She is the one who catches on to what is going on, but she isn’t really able to break Patti free of it despite her efforts. So we have to ask: who is the true heroine of this story? Patti is the titular heroine and none of the action would take place without her. But it’s Jane who does everything in the heroine role, and she is a far stronger and more developed character than Patti. She is the active heroine while Patti is a passive one, who takes little action to help herself out of her predicament, but that’s because she hasn’t got the power to do so.
Isadora Glenn is one of the most creepy, sinister, and terrifying villains ever to appear in Debbie. Her appearance and the way the inking conveys it has her giving the reader a feeling she’s a witch. As it turns out, that’s not wrong, because she’s a voodooist, and she’s using voodoo to turn Patti and Sylvia into vicious extensions of herself on the tennis court. She has no regard whatsoever as to what this will do to Patti in the end though she must be aware of it. She has no remorse about what it did to her own half-sister. Instead, she wants her sister and her champion tennis playing to rise again through Patti. Ironically, in a perverse way Isadora does intend it to be for Patti’s own good and make her a champion from “nothing”. Isadora is also extremely clever in the way she lures Patti into her power and gradually builds it until Patti is completely under her control, with only flashes of terror, conscience and desire to break free, which Isadora is very slick at stifling. Isadora is also capable of murder, and doing it through voodoo makes her even more terrifying. We have to wonder if even a police cell will keep our heroines safe from this woman and her black magic.
It is a very clever story setup in having the power over Patti gradually build up over time until she’s acting like a raving loony on the tennis court instead of having her change all at once. It makes the story even more creepy and frightening, having us not see all at once exactly what Patti is turning into with that evil racquet. Clearly, Isadora’s power needs to build strength and the victim’s will to gradually weaken for Patti (or Sylvia) to completely turn into the tennis court terror. And when the voodoo elements are introduced, the story becomes even more exciting and intense. Oooh…voodoo!
This story was in the Spellbound section of the Debbie & Spellbound merger. It may have originally been written for Spellbound. If so, it would have been one of Spellbound’s very best.