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