SUPER NATURALS: PREViEW iSSUE

Given away free with a handful of other Fleetway comics a week before the launch of the new Super Naturals fortnightly was this full-sized 16-page preview edition. Inside it contained a five-page introductory strip, a shorter humorous back-up and a few full-page photographs of the Tonka toys in all of their holographic glory, as well as a competition and full details on the contents of #1. But it wasn’t the only thing falling out of comics that week.

Also included was this glossy comic-sized card with that great logo on one side and a fact-file about the characters on the other with images drawn by Sandy James. The toys were just launching in the UK around this time so the preview comic was also kind of acting like a preview/advert for the toys. Well, it is a licenced comic after all and that’s kind of the whole point. This card highlighted the good and evil characters we’d be following each issue and introduced their illustrated look for the comic.

At the time I wasn’t aware of either gift, only stumbling across both a few years ago on eBay. Instead I came across the premiere issue on Hallowe’en itself, which I’ll whitter on about in the next review. But having this card bundled in with the preview, and the fact a Super Naturals Blockbuster advert like the kind OiNK had was also produced (which you’ll see soon), gives the impression there was a big push for this comic. The toy adverts seemed to be on TV constantly and the comic launch was next with a few issues before Christmas to build the hype.

Ian Kennedy‘s gorgeous painted cover kicked things off in a suitably creepy fashion with skulls, ghosts and powerful animal images. He’s even able to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of three-dimensional holograms, particularly in evil leader Skull‘s shield. Surely intriguing to those who received it, inside the background story is equally atmospheric. Drawn by John Gillatt (ScorcherEagleRing Raiders) he does an incredible job invoking the themes of mystery, darkness and the supernatural in this opening spread.

Throughout history humans from various points in time have discovered the Tomb of Doom, an ancient doorway to another realm called Ghostworld, overseen by the unknown entity Specter. These people would be attracted to its power for good or evil purposes, becoming trapped inside. Killed by Specter and transformed into the Super Naturals, they would be imbued with special powers best reflecting their individual personalities.

Specter did not care whether these people wanted the power to protect or to rule, only that their heart was dedicated to their desires. Who or what was Specter? Why were they doing this? To what end? Was it all a game to them? We didn’t know. Enter two brothers who end up leaders of the opposing forces in our main story The Legend of the Super Naturals, part one of the main ongoing strip. While their backgrounds are a mystery, Lionheart and Skull are descended from royalty of some description and it’s interesting to find out after all these years they were brothers when they were human.


“It’s a judgement on us all!”

Eyewitness to the arrival

The story rockets along. Yes, it has to in order to set up the comic’s premise but it’s full of story points which could’ve been explored further down the line; the origin of Ghostworld, were there other Super Naturals in there, the living history of every character, the list goes on. Unfortunately none of this would be explored because the comic’s life was cut short, but it’s intriguing to think of the potential storylines because these characters and this setting are crying out for development and for depth of storytelling on an epic scale.

All of those swirling doors and windows within the Tomb are entryways to the real world, the only place they can use their powers to do battle because it is forbidden inside Ghostworld. The end result is truly terrifying if the faces of the church goers in the above panel are anything to go by.

Their first breach flings them into their far future but to the reader it was the present day, Hallowe’en 1987, the date the first issue of the comic would be released. At this point in the story they’re unaware of where they could end up, the places and timezones seemingly random. As the comic gets underway we’ll see Skull and his cronies plot and plan like all good evildoers, choosing where and when to crash through to spread as much fear as possible, their ultimate goal was to turn reality into a dark underworld with them ruling all. The usual stuff.

I love the fact they’ve smashed through a church window here, showing straight away there’s no safe place in our world. For me, it also shows the comic wasn’t afraid of exploring certain horror themes, because I can imagine some parents wouldn’t have been too happy about a child’s comic showing evil demons battling in such a religious setting. It’s great stuff and reads like a classic 80s horror movie, the atmosphere perfectly captured by John.

The comic was edited by Barrie Tomlinson (see also Ring Raiders and Wildcat on the blog) but unfortunately it seems very little is remembered about the creation of this particular comic. John had worked with Barrie before on titles such as Tiger and drew Billy’s Boots for a long time, as well as working on both of the comics mentioned above. This was released earlier than either of them and John really does seem to relish drawing the darker material here after all the sports strips he was best known for at the time. Skull looks appropriately manic as he breaks through and the nighttime scene of their arrival wouldn’t look out of place in something like Scream. This won’t be the last time I mention that comic.

This preview also acted as advertising for the toy line and I don’t just mean because it had a licenced comic strip. There are also pin-ups of the various figures and vehicles produced by Tonka, who were always known for their high quality truck toys so naturally the Super Naturals wouldn’t drive about in any old cars, they had to be large Tonka trucks!

The images were supplied for the comic by the toy manufacturer and are expertly lit to show off the intricate and highly detailed holograms. I only owned one of the toys but from seeing these images and others online they were in a class of their own and superior to Hasbro‘s Visionaries. (I went into more detail about the toys in the introductory post to Super Naturals.) I can just imagine how I would’ve poured over these images in anticipation of Christmas if I had owned this at the time, but unfortunately the preview comic wasn’t given away with OiNK.

To lighten the mood after the main strip is Ghostlings, a shorter story based on the smaller ghosts; long-time inhabitants of Ghostworld who acted as helpers to the main characters. Again, each has a background of their own, in fact we’re told exactly who they were before they were killed, albeit without their original names. Among them, a former stage magician, a court jester, a witch and even a teen wannabe rock star. They’re certainly a diverse group. Their stories would bring a bit of humour to the main fortnightly comic.

Little did we know the lasting effect that story would have on us!

Below is the line-up for the first issue. I do think it’s strange the preview printed the story already planned for issue one rather than its own introduction, but beyond that is another Super Naturals strip which really is epic in scope and really shows off the kind of stories the set up would be capable of telling. The Ghostlings would return, there was the promise of complete horror stories (which do live up to the hype) and innocently listed there is The Doll. Little did we know the lasting effect that story would have on us!

It’s interesting to see even before the first issue the two non-franchise stories taking second and third place in the line-up. You’ll see these in the review of #1, but already it’s clear this is going to be more than your standard licenced comic. In some ways it felt like a reimagining of the horror classic, Scream! I’m incredibly excited to get reading these again. As per usual I’ll be doing so fortnightly in real time and it all begins on Hallowe’en itself, one week from now.

To finish off this whirlwind introduction to these very different characters the back page has a special competition to win a Tomb of Doom and action figures to place inside it. The slogan from the TV adverts adorns the top left of the page and should be read in a suitably creepy voice. The competition had been put together by Tonka themselves as an advertisement just for the comic and would become a regular back page addition with various prizes along the way.

There really is no other comic more suitable for review at this time of the year, so join me (if you dare) on Sunday 31st October 2021 for issue one of a forgotten classic.

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