- Beware the Mystery Dolls – Spellbound #22 (19 February 1977) – #32 (30 April 1977)
- Art: Adolfo Usero
In Victorian times, Vicky Martin is sent from an orphanage to stay with a distant relative Madame Venner who runs a doll shop and waxworks museum. It seems everyone she meets on the way is nervous of Madame Venner and her shop. She does at least make the acquaintance of Paul Cook a delivery boy who works nearby. She arrives at the shop and finds it quite creepy. A man suddenly grabs her telling her to go. Then Madame Venner appears, she tells Vicky not to take any notice of Franz, telling her he is a foreigner who lacks intelligence. Madame Venner looks as creepy as her shop, Vicky noting her waxy like appearance. Madame Venner says she will do her duty and Vicky can stay and work for her and she thinks her pretty face will be useful. That first night Vicky has bad dreams and is awoken by noises. She goes to investigate and in the shop she is surprised to see the dolls walking about, as she falls in the doorway, the dolls seem to move to attack. Luckily they stop suddenly and Madame Venner tells her, she has an over active imagination the dolls are just clockwork. She asks Franz to show Vicky back to her room and he once again warns her to leave.
The next morning things seem brighter and Vicky thinks she was being silly to be scared the night before, even Madame Veneer acts friendlier to her and she asks Vicky to deliver a package, with one of the clockwork dolls, a soldier, to a Colonel Maltby. The package is left in his study and when all alone the soldier doll breaks out. When the Colonel arrives home he is surprised to see the doll in his old regiment uniform, then suddenly it attacks! After its attack the doll quickly escapes and heads back to the shop. Vicky is shocked when she spots the doll covered in blood returning to the shop, although she doesn’t see Madame Venner greeting its return. Vicky wonders if she imagined it, but when she finds out from Paul that the Colonel has mysteriously died she fears that it was the doll responsible.
Vicky arranges to meet Paul that night so she can tell him her suspicions but Madame Venner catches her sneaking out. She makes up an excuse but Madame Venner is now distrustful of her and will be keeping a closer eye on her. That night she gives Vicky some food and locks her in her room. Vicky suspects food might be drugged and doesn’t eat it, instead she sneaks out window to spy on the doll shop workshop, there she sees Madame Venner and Franz working with some strange machinery. Madame Venner declares with the wax from a pharaoh’s tomb and Franz’s genius she can take her vengeance as they bring a shepherdess doll to life. Then Vicky slips and hearing a noise outside the two go to investigate. Paul happens to see Vicky in trouble and startles a cat to distract Madame Venner and Franz. Madame Venner not entirely convinced it was just the cat making noise, goes to check on Vicky just in case. Luckily Vicky has managed to get back to her room just in time.
The next day Madame Venner has another delivery for Vicky to make, this time to Lia Morgan, an actress. She is still suspicious of Vicky so she hypnotises her to make sure she does what she is told, but on the way Paul snaps her out of it. Vicky tells him about the dolls and what she saw but it sounds too fantastical that he doesn’t believe her, then they see Madame Venner is following them, and they have to go their separate ways. Vicky has no choice but to look like she has delivered the package, she instead hides it in a bush outside the house. She wants to go back to retrieve the doll but she isn’t able to escape Venner’s watchful eye until later, by which point the Shepherdess doll has woken and is on its mission finding a way into the house and slipping poison into Lia’s drink. Paul meets Vicky and witnessing the doll leaving Lia’s house he now believes her story. Vicky tries to catch the doll, but she leads her in front of a horse and carriage. Luckily it swerves and Vicky is unharmed and the doll is crushed.
Vicky takes an opportunity to switch around wires in the machine in the workshop, in the hopes of stopping Madame Venner’s plans. That night while trying to bring an archer doll to life the mixed up wires cause a fire. Although they get the fire under control quickly, Madame Venner, is very angry as she says flames almost destroyed her once and she goes to confront Vicky. Franz tries to persuade her that Vicky wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Vicky is saved from interrogation as Paul has brought a police constable after seeing the flames. She quickly gets rid of them and Madame Venner fixes the archer doll. Then she has one more job for Vicky and a plan to make sure Vicky won’t cause her anymore trouble! Madame Venner goes with Vicky to deliver the package to Sir John Bradley. Vicky escapes and later goes back to try and warn Sir Bradley only to find Madame Venner with him waiting for her. She has convinced him that Vicky is delusional, although things don’t go entirely to plan, when Sir Bradley insists Vicky stays the night to show her, her fears are unfounded and he will have the doctor see her in the morning.
Madame Venner rushes home to get her things, she thinks Vicky and Sir Bradley will be destroyed by the archer doll, while her and Franz are on the train out of town. Indeed the archer has begun his attack and with flaming arrow sets drapes on fire. Luckily with Vicky watching she is able to warn Sir Bradley and they stop the fire from spreading and destroy the doll. They then rush to Madame Venner’s place where they meet Paul who has been keeping eye on the place, but the museum is on fire, destroying all the evidence. They rush to catch Venner and Franz but they have already escaped on the train. Then the train crashes and they think fate has intervened to serve justice, Sir Bradley muses about a Miss Ventriss who was badly burned in a hunt ball, but now thinking they are safe Sir Bradley moves onto happier topics, offering both Vicky and Paul jobs in is household. Unknown to them Franz and Venner escaped the train wreckage and we see Madame Venner cover her scarred face with new mask.No one aware that Madame Venner still plans to have her revenge!
A perfect story for Halloween. This is a story that when it finishes still has readers asking questions, such as how did Franz come to work for Madame Venner and what exactly happened at the Hunt Ball where she was scarred? Even though we don’t get answers to our questions, the story never feels incomplete, or badly plotted, just an intriguing mystery. It is one of the more darker stories in Spellbound as we see Madame Venner is quite successful with her revenge to start with, we see bodies in the aftermath of the dolls actions, and an ending where the villain, unknown to protagonists, is still at large.
From the start the setting in a waxworks museum and dolls toy shop creates a very creepy atmosphere, with a feeling of eyes watching all the time. Along with Madame Venner’s waxy appearance (which we only later find out is actually a mask covering her scarred face) she fits right in with her surroundings. The mysterious Franz who looks tall and intimidating, shows a compassionate side, trying to warn Vicky away and dissuading Madame Venner that she has been spying. Because of his foreign accent, Madame Venner can pass him off as simpleminded, which again contrasts to appearances, he is actually very intelligent having built the machinery that brings the dolls to life. Then there are the dolls that carry out Venner’s plan, the use of innocent looking toy dolls that carry out deadly actions is very effective. It is disturbing for Vicky (and the reader) when she sees the blood stained toy soldier return. When the Shepherdess doll is sent on her mission, we wonder how that victim will meet their end, to have poison hidden in her crook is quite inventive. The final archer doll using a flaming arrow, is fitting as Venner says it was fire that destroyed her life. Having the different types of dolls keeps the story more interesting.
Vicky proves herself to be a resourceful protagonist, trying to stop the dolls being delivered, spying on Venner and messing with the equipment, all the while trying to not rouse Madame Venner’s suspicions. Although Paul doesn’t believe her at first he does become a good ally and it is good to have for her to have a confidant. Despite her efforts Madame Venner does become more suspicious of Vicky and we know the situation is becoming more dangerous for her. While she seems to be safe for now, with a good job and allies, the reader must have finished the story with some unease, knowing Madame Venner and Franz are still out there and Vicky must now be on the list of people that Venner wants vengeance against.