Tag Archives: Supernatural

Amy Beckett Says… [1993]

  • Amy Beckett Says… –  M&J:  #104 (8 May 1993) – #112 (10 July 1993)
  • Artist: Guy Peeters

Plot

After a bulldozer accidentally knocks against the the old entrance archway of the school, friends Fay Davis and Karen Green, notice some strange things happening. Fay feels an eerie chill when passing the entrance way and then some younger school kids start singing a skipping rhyme “Amy Beckett, now she’s free says come on girls and dance with me!”. A prefect, Jane, clears the young girls for making too much noise, later that day their skipping song changes to “Amy Beckett sees it all. Watch out when the oak leaves fall!”.  Fay and Karen don’t think the words make much sense as all the Autumn leaves have already fallen. Then Jane has a lucky escape when Fay saves her from a falling stone. Jane is clearly shaken, but the girls reason that it most have come loose when the bulldozer knocked against it. Fay notices a pattern of oak leaves on the stone, they put it down to a strange coincidence, though they don’t hear the girls now singing “Amy Beckett see it all and she KNEW the leaves would fall!”

The next day after a workman tells the skipping girls to move out of the way, the rhyme changes again, referencing the classic ‘ring-a-ring o’ roses’ nursery song. Fay, who still thinks something strange is going on, is worried when the workmen are planting a rose garden, that the rhyme is referencing it but is temporarily placated when nothing bad happens. She later realises when a builder sneezes and causes some bricks from a pulley to fall down injuring a workman, that she was right something bad would happen just not right in what the song referenced. Karen has also come around to the idea that the girls singing is a threat. Fay and Karen decide to talk to one the young girls they know, Annie, but she claims she doesn’t know any skipping rhymes. Karen theorises the girls are in some kind of trance while singing and don’t remember anything. But their questions have made them targets, the skipping girls surround them singing them to sleep and  in their dreams the ghost of Amy Beckett appears warning them not to interfere.

The girls are not deterred and decide to find out who Amy Beckett was, but when they try to look things up in the library, the reference cards start flying everywhere. They do manage to get a lead on some local history books that may be of use and the librarian tells them they are out on loan to an ex-teacher of their school. The skipping girls are keeping a watch on Fay and Karen, and when they try to go to Mrs Wilkins the next day, they are surrounded by fog, eventually they get to her house. Mrs Wilkins says she is writing a book about the school and shows them her notes, but the notes just repeat the same rhyme “Amy Beckett, now she’s free says come on girls and dance with me!”.  Then her granddaughter arrives it is one of the skipping girls, they find themselves surrounded as they sing “Amy says What is the fuss? Mrs Wilkins is with us!”. As the girls get away from the house, they have some luck when they find the history books in the rubbish bin outside.

At a cafe, when reading though the books Fay comes across a story about a tragedy at the school, but then it appears the book goes on fire. She douses it in water, but Karen didn’t see any flames. The cafe owner accuses them of vandalism and says she will return the books to library herself. We start to get hints of what could of happened to Amy, through the illusions and new rhymes. The girls sing “Everybody in this town says Amy Beckett burns things down!” then at the school the girls see flames they can’t be sure if its another illusion and sound the fire alarm. Annie has set them up to be caught by a teacher as there isn’t a fire. They are given detention to write ten thousand lines saying “Amy Beckett never was bad. But no-one believes her isn’t that sad?”. The lines are magically done, and they are told to give the sheets around the town. Mrs Wilkins is upset by the sheets, claiming it is all lies.More illusions show a newspaper saying “Amy Beckett is innocent” and fire caused by other girl before changing back to normal headline. We are given more information when the skipping girls new rhyme is “Amy didn’t start the fire  – Enid Armstrong is the liar”

Determined to get to the truth, Karen asks her dad who works for local newspaper if they can look at their records. While driving to office, Amy Beckett beckons Mrs Wilkins to step out in front of car, luckily  Mr Green stops just in time, he takes Mrs Wilkins home while Fay and Karen go on to the office. While they aren’t having luck finding information on fire, Karen finds an interesting wedding notice for local teacher Enid Armstrong marrying Ken Willkins. The girls figure out through what they heard in the rhymes and what they  saw on the fake newspaper that Mrs Wilkins was responsible for the fire and now Amy is out for revenge. The girls track down Mrs Wilkins but Amy has got to her first, hypnotising her and leading her to top of the school roof. Amy is about to get Mrs Wilkins to walk off the roof, but at last second has a change of mind and stops her and lets her go free. Mrs Wilkins confesses to starting the fire and blaming Amy who had died saving her. With the truth out the new school extension is named after Amy, to honour her and her ghost can now be at peace.

Thoughts

This was an effective creepy ghost story, the young girls skipping chant makes for an unsettling atmosphere, that sticks in your mind. While the story starts off, with Amy Beckett seeming to have no purpose but to cause trouble, later we find out more about her tragedy. As a ghost she seems quite conflicted, she wants revenge on Mrs Wilkins and wants to stop the girls investigating, but she also wants the truth to be known. At first she is an angry spirit, causing potentially deadly accidents to the prefect and workman for trying to stop the skipping girls, but she just warns off Fay and Karen and later only tries to cause the true fire culprit, Mrs Wilkins, harm. She tries to stop Fay and Karen in their research but then also starts to show them what happened by the false newspaper headline and tries to spread the truth by getting them to pass out papers saying she wasn’t bad. She comes close to taking full revenge on Mrs Wilkins, but as we know in life  Amy was a heroic person, it seems as a ghost she still has some of those qualities in her and can’t bring herself to go through with it. Which is good as she finds the truth is what sets her free not revenge.

While the girls own investigations are often disrupted like in the library and cafe, their biggest clues come from the rhymes and illusions that Amy shows them. It’s interesting that the biggest revelation they find themselves is not about a fire but a wedding notice. I thought that was a nice twist, rather than finding an article detailing a fire that we could figure out from what had happened from what been shown in the story but instead tying the importance of Mrs Wilkins to Amy’s revenge plot. Up to this point Mrs Wilkins could have just been targeted just because she was writing a book about the school, but we learn it is much worse. She started the fire, although we are not given a reason or whether it was on purpose or an accident, Mrs Wilkins was worried about getting in trouble and then blamed the girl who had died saving her. We don’t know what the consequences for her will be, but if she felt guilt over the years maybe now her conscience can be put to rest as well.

The other thing I noticed on this read is perhaps a sneaky reference to another ghost story The Shining where  in the film Jack’s draft of his book repeats the old proverb “All Work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” in this Mrs Wilkins notes repeat the Amy Beckett rhyme. While there have been other evil influence ghost stories, I do find the repeating rhymes, the mystery and that Amy Beckett wasn’t all evil makes it stand out from some others. It is a good read for Halloween and the resolution of the story, with the truth finally coming to light and Amy finding peace, was satisfying.

 

Beware the Mystery Dolls [1977]

  • Beware the Mystery Dolls – Spellbound #22 (19 February 1977) – #32 (30 April 1977)
  • Art: Adolfo Usero

Plot

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!

Thoughts

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.

 

 

The Doll’s House

  • The Doll’s House – Debbie PSL: #155 [1991]
  • Mystery Stories from Damian Darke

Plot

Damian Darke tells the story of a cursed Doll’s House and how it affects each new owner.

The story starts in the the 19th century, with Charlotte and her new doll’s house, that she shows off to visitors; Amanda Carter and her father. We think this will be the house of the story title, but when jealous Amanda causes Charlotte to fall on the house and break it, we know it can’t be. Instead Amanda asks her father for an even better doll house than Charlotte’s had been. He commissions a talented craftsman to  build it, but then he cheats the Mr Sugam out of money pushing him to floor when Sugam protests. Sugam curses the Carters  as they leave and later dies of his head injury. The police show up to question Mr Carter just as Charlotte is showing off her new house to Amanda. Charlotte is shocked to see the figure of Mr Sugam in her doll house lying unconscious on the floor, although no-one else can see it, she blurts out everything and the police arrest her father. After her father went to prison Charlotte was sent to a home for destitute children and the doll house ended up in a second-hand dealer’s shop.

Some months later a girl Lynn spots the Doll House and begs her adoptive mother to buy it for her birthday. But while her husband is away Mrs Blake can’t afford to buy it for her, instead she gives her a family necklace. Lynn ungrateful put it on stuffed parrot in the attic. When Mr Blake does return he buys the doll house for their daughter Alice’s birthday, thinking the girls can share it. Lynn is seething with jealousy and says Alice is clearly the favourite “real” daughter. When an opportunity arises for one of the girls to be painted as part of an advertising campaign, Lynn pushes Alice into a quarry getting rid of her competition. She rushes home and goes to find the old necklace in the attic to wear, she gets a shock to see one of the doll’s now life size in the attic with her and the door locked. Alice luckily surviving the fall rushes to her parents to tell them what happened, but they can’t find Lynn anywhere.  Alice later sees 2 dolls in the attic of her dollhouse, one of which looks curiously like Lynn, it disturbs her so much she gets rid of the house.

It was bought by Sir Martyne for his children Elizabeth and Max. They were spoilt and ill-tempered and didn’t improve even as they grew up and their parents died. They raised the rent on their tenants to keep up their lifestyle and when they discover that one of their tenants have a girl they fostered that may be a long-lost heiress they force the Harrises to give the girl to them, hoping to get her fortune. The girl, Maggie, is allowed to play with the doll house, when she sees it on fire she douses it with water, angering Max, who calls her a liar. Later a fire breaks out in the actual house, Maggie tries to warn the siblings but they don’t believe her, she runs for help but it’s too late for the Martynes. Maggie does discover se is an heiress and is able to buy the land for her now adoptive parents the Harrisses. The doll house which was salvaged from the fire is sold off.

It appears again in the 1920s, by now legends have build up about the house that it can avenge evil and foretell the future. Milly who next gets the house is fascinated by the idea it could tell the future. Later it appears to come true, as her father is at a meeting, Milly sees the mother doll fallen out of bed onto the floor. She check on her own mother and sees her in a similar state, and looking older. Unfortunately the phone lines are down, forcing Milly to ride her horse in a storm to get help. She rides through the nearest village but it is now a run down ghost town. She meets a man who tells her a business man built a chemical plant in the village then an explosion killed half the people. Milly sees the old sign on the chemical plant has her father’s name on it, the man continues telling her the businessman died of heart attack and a little later his daughter found her mother on the ground sick from grief, she rode off in storm for help but fell when her horse stumbled. Milly begs him to stop, that it can’t be true, then she wakes up in her own bed, her parents beside her. When she tells o her dream, it turns out the meeting her father was at was about building a chemical plant, but he now changes his mind.

Finally in more recent time the Doll’s house is owned by Barbara, she notices a new figure in the house when suddenly a girl appears at the window. She talks a bit strange saying the house drew her there, and seems to vanish when Barbara goes to introduce her mom. Her mother goes to visit the new neighbours who seem to be cagey about their daughter. After another visit from the girl to Barbara, the family confront the neighbours with a handkerchief they found. It turns out their daughter is in a coma, when Barbara goes to talk with her, she wakes up and everyone is delighted. Damian Darke ends the tale saying the girls have now grown up and the Doll house is changing hands again perhaps someone has already bought it for the reader.

Thoughts

Halloween is the perfect time for a Damian Darke story. The storyteller had a few picture story library books, unlike the first book; Beyond a Strange Door… which had 4 different stories with a common theme, this book has the same object, connecting them all. The story starts with a good misdirect, as we see Charlotte with her new doll’s house we think this will be the story’s namesake, so it is surprising when it gets broken. After Amanda gets her house and Mr Sugam is cheated out of his money and he places the curse, it looks like nonsense words but appears to be just backwards, if we translate forwards he say “I curse – I curse…. no joy or..” we don’t see what comes after the “or” I wonder if there was addendum for good people as the strange house’s powers seem to evolve from punishing bad people to helping deserving people by warning them of future events.

The first 2 stories have jealous and spiteful girls being punished, the third story also has nasty people making their end, but also a change when Maggie is able to escape the fire and Martyne’s because of the doll house. The next story the helps Milly by showing her a premonition and in final story it seems to call to the comatose Fran helping her to get well again. It is strange that it evolves from punishing people when they do something wrong, to actively helping good people, certainly a very powerful house/curse! In particular things seem very elaborate in Millys story as not only does she something in the doll house but a very realistic and detailed dream of a whole village being wiped out. The creepiest story is Lynn’s end to become trapped as a doll in the attic, while it may be seem deserving after attempting to kill Alice, the Blakes were actually willing to forgive her and get the mental health treatment she needs (very generous and progressive of them!),  of course they never find her, and Lynn is fleft to her horrible fate. After beginning with some unsettling stories, the last story is quite positive as the doll house helps both a comatose girl and it’s owner to find a lifelong friend, then with it’s ending of Damian Darke saying that the house could end up in a reader’s hands, the thought may be that it could help you… if you are a good person. But also could be considered a warning if you have any jealous or greedy thoughts!

Rebellion Specials 2020 – Part 4: Battle / Misty & Scream

The next two specials I’m looking at are Battle of Britain Special and Misty & Scream. Firstly the Battle special is a sizeable book at 100 pages, and it is packed with great art and stories, that I appreciate on an objective level. On a more personal preference there are other specials that I would have preferred to get the 100 page treatment. While I can enjoy the occasional war story, my interests aren’t in having a whole book of them, if I hadn’t purchased the specials bundle, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. This is still an impressive book with 10 new stories and 3 reprints.  The Highlights for me were: Face of the Enemy, Destroyer, Rat Pack. I also welcomed some light relief with The Young Cockney Commandos with art by Tom Paterson and on the opposite side I can appreciate the message of War Child, (although taking the whole book as a whole it does lead to some mixed messaging), Of the reprints Double Hero is nice addition to highlight some Ian Kennedy work which is always welcome.

Face of the Enemy (Writer: Alan Grant, Art: Davide Fabbri, Colours: Domenico Neziti) is my favourite as an old man visits a school, to tell the class  his experience as a young boy seeing planes fighting overhead during the Battle of Britain. When a German plane is shot down he runs to it despite having heard what “monsters” the Germans were, what he finds is a dying German man wishing for his family. It has nice art, with some impressive fighting scenes and I do like a story that shows there are humans on both sides of war. Destroyer (Writer; Rob Williams, Art: PJ Holden)  a story narrated by a young seaman, Joe Owen, about his time on the ship that had earned the name “jinxtown”, but despitethe nickname the ship would still have an important role to play in the war.  Rat Pack – The Tough Way (Writer: Garth Ennis, Art: Keith Burns) has a touch of humour, as the team make fun of the General they just rescued, the mission is recounted at a complaints hearing.

Misty & Scream is definitely more to my interest and that we are getting extra Misty content this year is a definite bonus. There are 6 stories here, it gets off to a strong start with Thief of Senses (Writer: Maura McHugh, Art: Robin Henley),  set in Victorian London where a family fear something that stalks in the night. It’s a very creepy story, and use of dark colours sets up a good atmosphere. I also enjoyed The Aegis (Writer: Kristyna Baczynski, Art: Mary Safro) a more modern story focused on rivalry within a school play. The title of the play Medusa: The Musical, foretelling the characters’ fates. Safro’s art reminds me of Darwyn Cooke, with it’s simple cartoon like style, and works great with this story. Bumps in the Night (Writer: Olivia Hicks, Art: John Lucas) is a creepy clown story, not my favourite in the book, but  sure to give anyone with a clown phobia some nightmares!

The second half of the book are all returning stories, if there is supposed to be a distinctive split  in the layout, these would be deemed the Scream! stories and as Misty takes first place in the title this year it would make sense for her stories to come first. We have the return of Black Beth (Writer: Alec Worley, Art: DaNi) , which is my favourite art in the book, just gorgeous work by DaNi. Then there is Return of Black Max (Writer: Kek-W, Art: Simon Coleby) probably bottom of my list (guess someone has to be), not too bad a story but felt I probably should have reread the previous installment first.  Which can be problem with continuing stories in these specials being so far apart. Although I somehow didn’t have that issue with the aforementioned Black Beth or with The Dracula File (Writer: Cavan Scott, Art: Vincenzo Riccardi) which felt it stood more on it’s own without knowing the background. It is a satisfying conclusion to the original 1970s story, and much better than the first revival (in the 2017 special). Even with the story concluded I would say there is still room to go back and fill in the gaps, if they so wished but left as is, it does its job of showing final fates of Dracula and  Stakis.

If it’s similar to this content I look forward to more Misty stories later this year!

 

Misty Short Stories IX: Evil Objects

Girls’ comics have always abounded with stories about evil objects: artefacts, tools, jewellery, toys, dolls, clothes, books, mirrors, paintings etc. In many cases the object forces the girl to act nasty and do horrible things. Alternatively, the object forces her to act out of character, sometimes in a backhand humorous manner. In other cases the object causes mayhem, misery and chaos, which the protagonist often gets the blame for.

In our ninth instalment of Misty Short Stories, we turn to the theme of evil objects, and how Misty used the subject for her short stories.

1: Locked up for a Reason

The protagonists find an object that was locked away, hidden or disabled. They discover too late that it was locked away for a reason, often ignoring or forgetting warnings to leave it well alone. The evil is unleashed, usually causing mayhem, destruction or trying to trap the protagonist. Does the evil get destroyed or contained again, or is there no stopping it this time? In the examples below it’s usually the former, but not always.

Pot Luck

Misty: #57

Artist: John Richardson

Gloria is a regular visitor to Old Hazel, a woman shunned and called a witch by many. When Hazel dies, Gloria finds a beautiful cauldron in her chest and keeps it as a memento. Hazel appears in a dream and says the cauldron is evil and cursed; she could not destroy the curse, only hide the pot away. Gloria forgets the dream but is soon reminded of it when she cooks jam in the pot. She soon discovers that anything put in the pot turns into a vicious killing monster. Fortunately Gloria manages to destroy the jam monster. Gloria puts the pot in the loft, confident nothing will get in it. But she overlooked a gap in the roof above the cauldron. A snowflake enters the cauldron and next morning an ice monster is coming down from the loft.

The Secret of Lan-Shi

Misty: #6

Artist: John Richardson

Petra Harris buys her brother Paul a broken mechanical lion from a junk shop for his birthday. The store owner says Lan-Shi broke the mechanism to stop the lion from prowling. Paul also finds a note inside saying: “Beware the lion’s roar. His teeth are sharp.” Despite this, Paul gets it roaring and prowling again. But Petra finds the lion’s roars extremely loud and terrifying, and there are reports on the news about something attacking and killing animals. Then the lion goes for Petra herself – but something stops it dead in its tracks. They find a spider slipped inside the lion and its webbing gummed up the works. Petra says she will have the lion destroyed.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

Misty: #61

Artist: Ken Houghton

Sally and her family move into a new house. There is a locked room with a mirror inside and Sally has a bad feeling about it. It grows worse when her dog Toby dies while locked in that room, and it looks like he died in a terrible fight. Then Sally’s reflection in the mirror comes alive, grabs her, and tries to switch places with her, saying Toby’s reflection tried the same with him and Toby fought until he died. Sally manages to smash the mirror and escape, but does not think she will ever be able to look into a mirror again without wondering if that reflection is waiting.

Mask of Fear

Misty: #39

Artist: Jose Canovas

Sue is looking for a suitable mask to win first prize again at a Halloween costume party. When she and her mother have to go and look after their sick (but rude) Uncle Henry, she steals a key to his locked room. Sue is unnerved to find it filled with all sorts of creepy occult paraphernalia, but is thrilled to find a super-creepy mask, which is just what she is looking for. She dismisses the note attached to the mask, which says it was found in Tibet on a dying man and only Uncle Henry knows its “terrible secret”. The mask wins Sue first prize hands down. But when Sue tries to remove it, she finds she can’t; each time she tries, there is another, and another, and another. Recalling Uncle Henry’s note, she calls his house for help, only to learn he has died.

The Choice of Silence

Misty: #62

Artist: John Richardson

Amy has always been sad at being deaf. She visits an exhibition on ancient Egypt. The mummy of an evil sorcerer, Tut Ank Nohman, offers to give Amy the power of hearing in exchange for freeing him. Amy resists as she was warned he was evil, but eventually the temptation of being able to hear is too strong. Amy frees the mummy. But then she chooses public safety over being able to hear and throws a lantern at the mummy, destroying him. Amy goes back to being deaf, but now feels a sense of pride instead of sadness because of the sacrifice she made.

The Devil’s Pipe

Misty: #76

Artist: Isidre Mones

Debbie Sinden, while on holiday in Cornwall, learns the legend of wrecker Heggy Trevallen, who made a pact with the Devil for a pipe that had the power to conjure up storms. The Devil claimed the souls of Heggy and his fellow wreckers. Then Debbie finds an old pipe with metal detector and despite warnings it is the Devil’s pipe, she blows it. In the night she blows the pipe while in a hypnotic state, and it calls up the spirits of the wreckers. Cousin Liz, who has followed, grabs the pipe and throws it into the sea, stopping the menace.

The Devil’s Dummy

Misty: #69

Artist: Blas Gallego

Deirdre and Pam go to a ventriloquist’s (Golgo) show. Golgo is also a hypnotist, and Deidre is not amused afterwards to hear the hilarious things Golgo had her do while she was in a hypnotic state. Months later Golgo announces his retirement and buries the dummy, Montague. Deidre goes to dig up Montague in revenge and thinking there are valuables too; Pam has misgivings but tags along. Once unearthed, Montague shouts “Thief!” at them and grips Deidre’s hand, drawing blood. They escape but Pam goes back, where she meets Golgo. He tells her Montague is possessed by a vampire’s soul, which is why he buried him. When Pam finds Deidre, Deidre is in a strange hypnotic state and says she loves Montague and please bring him to her…

Hands of Nefri

Misty: #82

Artist: Ramon Escolano

Jodi’s dying grandfather tells her to return the gold-covered mummified hands of Nefri to her tomb in Egypt, saying there is a curse on them. But Jodi gets greedy and keeps them for herself, along with everything else she inherited from her grandfather. Jodi has terrible dreams of her uncle and aunt fading away, and when she wakes up, the gold casing has shattered and the mummified hands inside have vanished. Then she discovers where they are – in the place of her own hands. Outside, she can hear the mummy of Nefri coming for her hands…

2: The Collecting Machines

Machines/objects that collect people as you collect coins are really freaky, which naturally made them terrifying in horror stories. The most terrifying example Misty produced in this category has to be the typewriter in “Prize Possession”. This is not only because it throws a lot of scares into the protagonist before she disappears. It’s because the full extent of what the typewriter actually does is not actually shown and we do not see what happens to its victims, as we do with the other stories here.

The theme was probably at its best when the machine/object had a purpose in collecting people. In “Take the Money!” it was to trap the greedy. In “The Collector”, it’s because the post box has grown bored and miserable from long-standing disuse and neglect. Hmm, could we feel a pang of sympathy for the post box there? On the other hand, the postbox does look kind of like a Dalek in the story panel below.

The Collector

Misty: #68
Artist: Mario Capaldi

Reprint: Misty annual 1984

A crumbling, disused postbox has turned to collecting people, trapping them inside it, because it has grown bored and evil from neglect and doesn’t get letters anymore. It gets excited when it hears a new post office development is starting nearby and thinks happy days are here again. But instead the redevelopment demolishes the postbox. This releases its victims, who can’t really explain or remember what happened.

Take the Money!

Misty: #90

Artist: Jose Canovas

Two strangers offer Anna and her friend Mary a strange deal: press a button on a black box to kill an old Chinese lady who is in great pain, and they will receive a million pounds. Mary is repulsed and rejects the offer, but greed induces Anna to accept it, and she presses the button. That night, Anna finds her room filled with banknotes, but then she becomes trapped in the box, along with everyone else who pressed the button, including the Chinese lady. Everyone says they fell for the same line as Anna: press the button and receive a huge sum of money in exchange for putting someone out of pain and misery (actually, the sucker who pressed the button before them). When the next sucker presses the button they die and end up in the box before they can enjoy the money. Now some sucker in Japan has fallen for the same line and pressed the button to kill Anna.

Smile

Misty: #100

Artist: John Richardson

Gail buys a second-hand instant camera and uses it to take pictures at a party. But terror strikes when they discover that whatever – or whoever – the camera photographs will vanish. Fortunately Gail took note of how many shots the camera had left, so when she approaches it with a hammer to smash it, it desperately tries to “photograph” her, but she knows it is out of film. Once she destroys the camera, everything and everyone who had disappeared is restored.

Prize Possession

Misty: #19

Artist: Ken Houghton

In 1947, Annie West is given a typewriter for winning a school competition, but she discovers there is something sinister about it. It makes her type terrifying horror stories and creepy notes about the typewriter’s previous owners, whose names are engraved on the nameplate on side of the typewriter. Their figures appear in a mirror, trying to warn Annie of something. There is a scream, and when Annie’s parents come, they find she has vanished, leaving an unfinished typed message for help: “Father…help me…I am trapped in the”. Annie is never seen again. Her name is mysteriously added to the nameplate. In 1978, another girl acquires the typewriter and is surprised to find herself typing a creepy message about Annie West.

Closing Thoughts

Objects exerting evil influences over people and making them act bad/out of character are completely absent from this category (except for a hint in “The Devil’s Pipe”). This is a very curious omission on Misty’s part, considering how the theme appeared so frequently in girls’ comics. In fact, this is what girls comics used evil objects most frequently for. But only once did Misty use the theme of an evil object exerting an evil influence, and that was in her serial “Journey into Fear…”

Both Gypsy Rose (Jinty) and The Storyteller (June/Tammy) had their share of stories about evil objects exerting an evil influence over the protagonist. So why didn’t Misty do the same with her short stories? The evil objects in these stories are used to inflict mayhem and destruction, inflict comeuppances, or make people disappear. Was it some preference on Misty’s part or was it a side effect of her huge emphasis on comeuppance stories?

Secret Gymnast [1993]

  • Secret Gymnast – Bunty: #1873 (4 December 1993) – #1884 (19 February 1994)
  • Art: John Armstrong

Plot

Ginny Jones, enjoys sports, but she has yet to find the one that fits her best, she gets a bit too enthusiastic for team sports! After a hockey match she gets into a fight with some girls from the competing school. She escapes them by running away through a building site. Unknown to her, while she is maneuvering around the site, she is being watched. The older woman sees potential on her and invites her into her house. Ginny keeps a safe distance as the woman seems strange and her house derelict. She leads her to a gym and tells her she has been looking for a promising student for quite a while and wants to train her to be a gymnast. Ginny agrees to be trained despite some oddness from her new coach, like her habit of calling her Gina and wanting to keep the lessons secret.

Coach is a hard taskmaster and in keeping up with her training she gets in trouble in other parts of her life.  Ginny does feels she’s already learnt a lot and thinks maybe she doesn’t need the coach or the hassle. But after doing badly, in a school competition, she realises she does still need Coach. She tries to follow Coach’s directions, so even when her dad treats the family to McDonalds she sticks to her diet. She is tempted by a doughnut but  then she hears Coach’s voice telling her to remember her training, which causes her to drop the doughnut. Ginny thinks it must have been her guilty conscience, that made her hear the voice. Later when they pass the derelict houses, where Coach lives, her father mentions that they will all be torn down soon and only few squatters live there. So Ginny concludes that’s why Coach is always in a rush, because she isn’t supposed to be there.

After she has to letdown her school P.E. teacher by turning down a rematch competition, Ginny is happy that Coach wants to enter her in a local competition. There is a fee to be submitted with the entry form but when she brings it up with coach, she goes strange and looks tired. Ginny says she’ll get the money somehow, she thinks if Coach is a squatter she musn’t have much money either. Ginny manages to scrape money together but it leaves nothing for her mom’s upcoming birthday. She decides to cook her a birthday tea instead, but then she loses track of time at practice and is home late. Her younger sister, Kylie, is upset that she spoiled mom’s birthday.

Ginny’s secret training causes more problems as she falls out with a friend, after she doesn’t help with a paper round as she promised. She does think that at least Coach will be pleased that she placed third, at the local competition, but Coach informs her she expected more. Ginny doesn’t know if she should continue, saying that perhaps she is wasting Coach’s time. Coach backtracks, but Ginny is still feeling fed up. Coach says if she doesn’t see her the next day then she’ll take it that the training is over. But the next day Ginny has to look after her brother and sister while her mom is at the dentist, she doesn’t want to let them down again, but it causes her to be late to practice. As soon as she can, she rushes to practice, Coach is still there but she looks ill. Concerned, Ginny says she’s ready to dedicate herself to practice. Coach informs her they are running out of time she must practice before and after school.

At school she feels obliged to play a hockey match but is injured. Coach of course is not pleased with this, Ginny says if she could explain to her teachers about her gymnastics training, she wouldn’t be put in this situation. But Coach insists until she wins the regional championship she must keep it secret, after that it doesn’t matter. She has ointment to help with Ginny’s ankle and after a bit of rest she is able to pick up her training. As the competition nears, Ginny improves and Coach praises her more, but she also seems more forgetful. Meanwhile the houses are to be knocked down soon and Ginny gets cleared away by some Workmen. She goes back later and more of the house is boarded and a sign saying “Danger Demolition” is outside. She does find Coach still there, but she shies away when Ginny goes to physically thank her for her help. The big competition the next day, she bumps into her friends who are there to watch and she explains that she is a contestant and that’s what she’s been up to all this time. Ginny is delighted when she wins and rushes to tell Coach. She has to climb in a window as the door is blocked and there is no sign of Coach. She is going to leave Coach a note, but when she picks up a piece of paper to write on, she finds it’s and old newspaper article that says Coach Vera Ramsey along with her student Gina were killed two years ago (how this paper got there in the first place is a mystery in itself!). Ginny yells out her thanks to the Coach and promises to keep up the hard work, a year later she has kept her promise and remembers to thank both Vera and her current coach when she is presented with her medals.

Thoughts

With the release of Tammy’s Bella at the Bar, it seems an ideal time to look at other John Armstrong work featuring a gymnast. A possible prototype to Bella, A Leap for Lindy, was already discussed on the Jinty resource site, and here in Secret Gymnast we get to see a post-Bella work. Bella is probably Armstrong’s most famous work and we can see here that Ginny bears a close resemblance to Bella.  Armstrong has said he enjoyed drawing gymnastic stories (he certainly had a talent for it), so it is bit surprising that other than Bella there are so few of his stories that feature a gymnast. He did a lot of work for IPC and DCT but this is the only gymnastic story that I know of that he did for DCT (if I’m wrong and he did others, please let me know!). Perhaps  gymnastic stories just weren’t as popular as they were in the 70s/early 80s or Bella’s fame was too much and they didn’t want her to overshadow other stories, as one can’t help but draw comparisons.

A lot of the stories Armstrong drew, featured a working class protagonist, Ginny is no exception, but perhaps being set in the 90s, the world has improved somewhat since the Thatcher era. Money is still tight, Ginny struggles to get money together for entry form, there are people without work, the school can’t afford proper gymnastic equipment, there are derelict houses…. but Ginny’s father has a job, they can send her younger sister to ballet lessons (even if they couldn’t afford to also send Ginny), and have treats like a trip to McDonalds. Also it’s noted the houses being knocked down and new development built up, which will offer more jobs, so Britain doesn’t seem to be as desolate a place as it is portrayed in some of the 70s stories (although it’s still far from perfect!). It is interesting looking at the social commentary in these stories as an adult, as I probably didn’t read much into it as a child.

Unlike Bella, at least Ginny does not have to deal with cruel guardians, her family are generous with what they have and seem supportive, I’m sure they would have supported her gymnastics if they knew about it (although they probably wouldn’t approve of her being trained in a rundown house with a strange woman!). The main conflict of the story comes from Ginny keeping her training secret, it leads her to let down her family and friends with no explanation. Ginny does feel guilty about this and there are times she sacrifices her gymnastics in order to make up for previous events, such as competing in the hockey match and babysitting for her mom. As we see her struggle to balance these things, we also root for her to succeed and are pleased to see her training pays off.

The other driving plot of the story is the mystery surrounding Coach. Why she lives in a run down house, what her name and background is, and why she seems confused and abrupt at times. There are hints of something ghostly about her from early on, but not enough to make it too obvious. One of the more blatant instances of supernatural Ginny hearing her voice stopping her from breaking her diet, but even that can be explained away. There is real sense of urgency in Coach, Ginny must win as she hasn’t the time to start again, she knows time is running out. We see her strength fading, presumably her spirit is tied to her house and gym and the closer it gets to it’s destruction the weaker she becomes. We can hope she finds some sense of peace, when she achieves what she set out to do – train a champion and that is why she lets go and is not there when Ginny comes to tell her the news. It is nice that the last panel shows that Ginny acknowledges her first Coach and honours her.

The Secret of the Gipsy Doll (Dolwyn’s Dolls) (1984)

Published: as ‘The Secret of the Gipsy Doll and Two Other Stories about “Dolwyn’s Dolls”’. Bunty PSL #259, 1984.

Reprinted: as ‘3 Great Stories about Dolwyn’s Dolls’. Bunty PSL #378, 1994.

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

This Bunty PSL presents three stories from “Dolwyn’s Dolls”. On three occasions a visitor walks into Meg Dolwyn’s doll shop while she is mending a doll. She tells them the story of the respective doll she is mending.

Story 1: The Gipsy Doll

In Victorian times a maidservant named Mary, who works at Lancing Manor, tries to run away. But she is caught by the eldest son of her employers, Vernon Vardon, and he looks a very nasty type. Mary’s sweetheart, a gipsy named Romany Smith, goes to Mary’s defence when Vardon threatens to attack her, and he lays quite a punch into Vardon. Vengeful Vardon makes insinuations that he is going to have Smith arrested on trumped-up charges of stealing silverware from Lancing Manor. Worse, Mary seems to believe the accusations against Smith and he pleads his innocence to her in vain.

That night Mary regrets not sticking up for Smith more. But she is shattered to see Smith burning his gipsy caravan, which is the gipsy way of saying he has gone forever. Mary dies of a broken heart over her sweetheart a year later.

On the day Mary dies, a package arrives for her. It is a gipsy doll with the words “look into my heart” embroidered on it. The doll is placed in Mary’s room in case her family come to collect her belongings. Nobody does, and no servant will sleep in there, so the room is left to gather dust.

In the next century Mary’s room is converted into a bedroom for Jenny Vardon. Jenny has strange dreams of the burning gipsy wagon and the gipsy doll, which is crying. Jenny still hears crying when she wakes up and finds it is coming from the cupboard. Inside, she finds the gipsy doll.

Jenny looks into its heart and finds money and a letter for Mary. It is from Smith, who went to Boston, bettered himself, and sent money for Mary to join him. He also heard that Vardon was taking the silverware and selling it to pay his debts. So the truth is out at last, but it’s come too late for Mary.

Thoughts

Many of the Dolwyn stories had supernatural elements. Some were kept ambiguous while others, such as this one, were more overt. It is not surprising that this story contains supernatural overtones. The room Jenny sleeps in would have a reason for being haunted as a girl died in it from a broken heart, and there are also the Romany elements, which hint at gypsy spells and curses.

This is the saddest, and spookiest, of the three Dolwyn stories in this PSL. The revelations come too late to reunite Mary and Romany Smith in life. Still, the fact that the gipsy doll seemed to lead Jenny to it and look into its heart suggests that it was to help the two lovers rest in peace, and they are now.

Story 2: For the Love of Lindy

Carole’s mother has remarried and they move to a better house. Stepfather says it’s time for Carole to throw out her old doll, Lindy. Carole won’t hear of it, but stepfather does not respect this. As a result Carole runs away with Lindy and goes back to where she lived before. Her old friends can’t put her up, so they help her camp out in an old building and bring her supplies. They also lock the door at her request, but this proves to be a near-fatal mistake.

While Carole is asleep an old tramp accidentally sets the building on fire. By the time Carole is awake, the room is ablaze and she can’t get out because the door is locked. The firemen have arrived but don’t know she is up there. Carole throws Lindy from the window to alert them to her presence. Her dolly SOS works, and she is rescued. After this, stepfather has a new respect for Lindy and arranges a new dress and repairs at Meg’s shop for her.

Thoughts

This “love me, love my doll” story shows you should never underestimate the love for a doll or tell a child that it’s time for them to say goodbye to their dolls. They should be allowed to decide for themselves.

Story 3: The Young, Old Doll

Another visitor, Millie, comments on how the doll Meg is repairing looks so old and ragged. Meg replies that the doll, Daisy, was in fact bought only recently. It sounds like Daisy really has been through the wars then. Sure enough, that’s what her story is about.

Daisy was a birthday present for June, but then June’s dog Rex snatches Daisy and runs off with her. And that’s just the start of really rough adventures that have Daisy ending up at Meg’s shop for repair.

Rex loses interest in Daisy and leaves her to lie on waste ground. Billy Watson and his gang find her and, being a rough lot, use her as target practice for kicks. Billy’s sister Josie comes along and tells him to desist, but what really draws off the boys is that there has just been a road accident. Josie hides Daisy in a makeshift shelter. But she does not come back for some reason, and rain starts.

Another girl, Moira, comes along and finds Daisy. Moira’s home is dysfunctional, with her parents always arguing, and she is particularly anxious to stay out of Dad’s way. When she gets home he is in a really foul mood because he was involved in the road accident. He insists the accident was not his fault: the accident girl just came out in front of him and he had no time to stop. But he is terrified that he will lose his new van driver’s job because of it. When he sees Daisy he gets into such a rage that he throws her out in the street.

Another gang of yobs find Daisy and set about using her as a goal for footy practice. But the female member of the gang proves more kindly. She stops the boys cold and takes Daisy to the hospital for the children’s ward.

As luck would have it, Daisy ends up in the accident girl’s ward, and she is none other than June. June and Daisy are reunited and the sight of Daisy jogs June’s memory about the accident. She makes a statement that clears Moira’s father: the accident happened because she couldn’t find the brakes on her new birthday bike.

Meg finishes the repairs on Daisy. As she does so, she tells Millie that you can’t always tell by appearances, whether it’s dolls or people.

Thoughts

As Meg states, this story is a lesson in how you can’t always judge by appearances. This is best shown with the yobs who find Daisy in the street. The male punks are as rough as they look when they try to use Daisy for footy practice. But the girl, although she has a punk look, shows she has a kind heart. And as with Lindy, this is a “doll saves the day” story, in this case helping to clear the very driver who threw her out into the street.

We do have to wonder how Meg was able to relate all of Daisy’s misadventures from the moment she is snatched from the dog to ending up in June’s ward. How could anyone have been able to find all the people who encountered Daisy in the interim and piece the whole story together?

The Darke Diamonds [1985]

Plot

The Darke Diamonds are the heirloom necklace of the Darke family. Once there were ten diamonds, but over the generations the diamonds have progressively disappeared one way or another (lost, sold, gifted, traded, and even thrown away) and just one is left now. The latest Darke to inherit the last diamond relives the diamonds’ history in a strange dream.

Notes

  • Artist: Paddy Brennan

Appeared

  • The Darke Diamonds – Suzy: #159 (21 September 1985) – #175 (11 January 1986)

Sally’s Secret [1993]

  • Sally’s Secret –  M&J:  #112 (3 July 1993) – #119 (21 August 1993)
  • Artist: Bert Hill

Plot

Linda Brown’s family move to a new estate and she is happy when the family next door has a girl her age. Linda becomes quick friends with Sally Smart, but there is something mysterious about her new friend. Sally’s father is not around, but she says he will join them soon, and then they will be moving on, in the meantime she says they can be friends. Sally is very evasive of any questions about her father and other strange things like saying there’s no point in them installing a phone and that her dad won’t write or call.

When they go to see a film together, there is a scene where the father walks out on the family. Later Linda asks if that’s what happened with Sally’s family and she gets upset. She knows her parents still love each other and really want to be together, even if they cant do that right now.  The girls make up after their fight and Linda though still curious about what the mystery with Mr Smart is, she is a lot more cautious about asking questions.

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More strange things happen, such as Sally’s aunt comes to visit the house, but Sally avoids her and the aunt just lets herself into the house. Later they go back to the house and find, Sally’s aunt has cleared the food out and unplugged the fridge! When the girls start at school, Linda overhears Mrs Smart saying if Sally had played things her way she wouldn’t have to go to school. In art class the teacher has bunch of old newspapers from around the country, Sally is surprised to see something in a newspaper from her old home town. Linda hopes she can read the paper but Sally throws it into a fire, so she can only read part of the headline “Ex-Shaftsbury Man in..”. Again Linda wonders what Mr Smart is involved in. She thinks he may be criminal on the run after seeing news report, but then she sees photos of Mr Smart and he is not either of the men she saw on tv.

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There are other strange things about Sally, like when a teacher talks to Sally about future careers and later Sally says she won’t be working any job when she’s older. Linda wonders how that would be possible, as they don’t seem so rich that she could afford not to work. When they come across a trapped dog and go to rescue it, the dog keeps barking at Sally. At first she thinks it’s  odd as dogs usually like her, then she realises what the problem is but doesn’t elaborate on what that is to Linda.  Afterwards a local reporter wants to do an article about the rescue for the paper, but Sally says she’s too shy. Knowing how outgoing she is, Linda knows this is a lie, but the reporter takes a photo anyway (not very ethical of him!). Linda goes to persuade him not to run the article but it turns out something was wrong with the photo as Sally doesn’t show up in it.

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When the class go on a school trip, Sally notices people from her old school there, she asks Linda to cover for her and she sneaks away, so she won’t have to meet any of them. Later Linda goes to Sally’s house and overhears Mrs Smart telling Sally things are getting too complicated and they may have to go with out her father. Linda is sorry to lose her friend, but Sally is a lot happier when she hears their father will be able to join them after all. The next day Linda says her goodbyes, then a few days later, she sees the Smarts house up for sale. Linda gets talking to the estate agent, who tells her the sad story behind the house, a family just bought the house when the mother and daughter were killed in a car accident in Spain. The father was left in a coma but had recently died, so his sister was putting the house on the market. Linda is shocked it turns out Mr Smart wasn’t the strange one, it was Sally and Mrs Smart who were unusual, as they were ghosts!

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Thoughts

This is a nice little mystery story with solid art by Bert Hill as always. Actually M&J seemed to be quite fond of the mysterious new neigbours storylines (such as Strange Neighbours and Strangers). The ending was unexpected, although the hints were there throughout the story if you took notice, such as Sally saying she won’t have a job in the future and she won’t be able to stay in contact after they leave. Of course this is more obvious once you know the twist. Some of the phrasing also takes on new meaning when the ending is known such as “moving on”, which often is associated with death and grief. There are other times when Sally says things like “we all have sadness in our lives” which has a heavier meaning and makes the ending seem a bit tragic, as Sally is a likable character. Sally is a good friend to Linda, is shown to be generous and ironically for a ghost is full of life! She has a daredevil attitude, and encourages Linda to be more adventurous.

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It’s in the penultimate episode that the potential supernatural element was more apparent, when the dog didn’t like Sally and when she didn’t show up in photo. I like that Linda’s focus (and therefore also the readers) is that there something mysterious about the Mr Smart and how she keeps trying to think of reasons why he isn’t around and why he can’t contact them. I would have thought maybe prison or some witness protection thing first, as I was not thinking of more bizarre reasons.

It does raise some questions such as how were they able to eat and interact with things as ghosts, and how was Sally enrolled in the school, without them knowing about the accident. Also after the Smarts leave, there must have been some fallout, as Sally would disappear and surely others must find out about her, she interacted with so many people, how would they react on finding out ghosts exist, would the reporter do a story on it? Still other than  those questions, it is well paced and like I said the hints were there without being too obvious, so the twist doesn’t come out of no where, but is still effective.

Beyond a Strange Door…

  • Beyond a Strange Door… – Debbie PSL: #150 [1990]

Plot

beyond-a-strange-doorDamian Darke introduces us to four short stories, each involving a strange happenings with mysterious houses.

In the first story  Maddy Thomas moves to a new house in the country with her family. On the first day she sees a shadowy figure in the woods beside the house but then it disappears. When they settle into the house her father says that now they have a big backyard, Bobby, the dog, can now sleep outside in his new kennel. But Bobby seems to be scared of sleeping outside. He  refuses to eat and even when they take him back inside he seems to be wasting away. At night a boy appears to Maddy demanding she give him back his dog. Her parent’s wake her up from her nightmare, but Maddy’s still sick with worry, so they call a doctor. Maddy overhears the doctor telling her parents, that the dream she had was very strange considering there is a story about the house being haunted by a boy who drowned while looking for his dog. Later, when Mr Thomas is clearing some old furniture they find a diary of Thomas’s father – he tells off  how he had to put down Thomas’ dog, but was afraid to tell his son. That night Maddy goes to the woods to confront Thomas and show him where his dog is buried. Thomas doesn’t believe her at first but then he is reunited with his dog. Maddy wakes up in bed and thinks it was all a dream, but Bobby has somehow made a miraculous recovery, so Damian Darke questions how much of it was a dream…

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In the next story siblings Alan and Jean aren’t too happy to have to spend Christmas with their aunt Clarissa, while their parents work. Even though they are stuck being with their miserable aunt , who won’t even buy a Christmas tree,  they try to make the best of it. Their laughter and energy seems to awaken two ghost children Edward and Charlotte. They comment on how the house should have more decorations for Christmas, making them appear and not realising that Clarissa can see the things they do. They make it disappear again, but Clarissa blames Alan and Jean. Clarissa doesn’t lighten up, when Alan and Jean make friends with neighbour children, she gets rid of them quickly, showing her snobbery as she tells Jean and Alan that those children were poor and probably thieves. Edward thinks its time for her to have a few shocks, and plays tricks such as putting pepper all her her dinner. Of course this only makes things worse for the children, which Charlotte had warned him about. After this Charlotte has a better idea, showing Clarissa a happy childhood memory of Christmas and then taking it away. Clarissa is upset and wonders how she has become so hard over the years. Jean and Alan find and comfort her, she makes things up to them, buying Christmas tree and inviting neighbours for Christmas.

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In the third story Vicky and her family are holidaying in an old boarding house. Vicky meets a young girl, Margaret, who seems nice but something seems off about her, she says Vicky has the same name as the queen and talks about things that aren’t there. She wonders if the house is haunted, so she asks landlady, Mrs Lane, about Margaret and is relieved to know she exists. Vicky gets Margeret a doll for her birthday, when she gives it to her, Margaret seems confused saying her birthday was ages ago, but she is delighted with the gift. Later Vicky is confused when Margaret appears calling her a liar, saying that she hasn’t seen her in ages and her mother says she doesn’t exist. Vicky tries to follow her, but finds the room has gone cold and creepy. Vicky is worried about Margaret’s confusion and when she goes to talk to Mrs Lane, she is shocked to overhear her  talk so callously about Margaret  being ill and dying. She tells her parents and they decide they should leave, Mrs Lane is surprised but even more surprised when Vicky says she doesn’t care that her daughter is dying. She tells them she doesn’t have a daughter and introduces her to an old woman Margaret who grew up in the house and had agreed that she could live the rest of her life out in the house. Margaret recognises Vicky and shows her she still has the doll Vicky gave her, it is all old now. It turns out Vicky was the ghost all along!

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In the last story Julia Mason makes friends with her neighbour, Penny when her Mom and her move to new house. Penny seems to be a lonely girl, and Julia says she will help her with her tennis but they will have to do it in secret. Under Julia’s guidance, Penny wins the school tournament. Watching her, Julia doesn’t think Penny will need her any more and she also thinks her Mom will be fine. After the match Penny’s  father introduces her to Ms Mason.  Penny asks her where Julia is, and tells her that Julia has been coaching her. This shocks Ms Mason, because her daughter, a promising tennis player passed away two years ago not long after her father. Seeing that Penny isn’t joking Ms Mason tells her she always felt Julia presence with her too, she invites Penny and her father back to her house. Penny thinks Julia has helped her many ways and may even have found a new mother for her.

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Thoughts

Continuing with more Damian Darke stories for Halloween, this is a good collection of stories. While all stories deal with the supernatural, there is a nice mix of spooky, with some lighter stories too. None of the ghosts are vengeful or vicious, Thomas in the first story comes the closest, as he seems to be a danger to Bobby, but in the end it is not maliciousness but a misunderstanding. The placing of the stories are well done, both the first and third are the creepiest, so there is a nice balance. Some psl books that have a collection of stories (like Scream) use different artists for each story. This book only has one artist, which I guess makes sense as Damian Darke is tying all the stories together and the artist does a good job here. My favourite of the stories is the third story, in a short space it establishes something mysterious with Margaret, then lulls the reader into false security as Mrs Lane knows of Margaret’s existence, so she can’t be a ghost. Then of course the twist at the end that Vicky was the ghost haunting the house.

The book does well in telling satisfying stories in such a short space. Taking into consideration a recent post about Steve MacManus book on the jinty resource site, and that stories were measured by panel numbers, I looked at how these stories measured up.

  • First story – 39 panels
  • Second story – 40 panels
  • Third story – 40 panels
  • Fourth story -21 panels

The first three stories have a pretty even spread. While they are quite short, I was surprised that they do have a lot of panels. Looking at some Damian Darke stories from the weekly Spellbound, those stories had a lot less panels (less than 20 panels for at least 4 stories that I counted). Of course a disadvantage of the psl is what they can do with the panels is more limited, usually pages are split in two rectangular panels or sometimes three panels, there is less space to use more imaginative layout. The first page of this psl is given to Damian Darke’s introduction which is quite effective.

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