I’ve really been looking forward to this after enjoying the premiere issue so much. A licenced comic which came across with that first issue as a spiritual successor to Scream!, Super Naturals had a great start but can that momentum be maintained and even built upon? We kick off with another Sandy James cover which is as colourful as that memorable logo and I initially thought it contained a glaring mistake, but it was I who made the error.
The evil Ghostlings are the star of this front page and in the background we can see their human forms as they lift the cover and reveal the horrors they transform into. Except for Scary Cat, whose hissing cat and witch forms seem to be the wrong way around. But inside, during one of the stories she calls her cat persona her “true form”. While it’s not elaborated on, could it be she was a stray cat who wondered into the Tomb of Doom? It’s an interesting idea. She was the only toy I owned at the time but I can’t remember what it said about her background on the packaging.
The issue opens straight into the second part of The Legend of the Super Naturals and unfortunately it appears John Gillatt has already moved on. Perhaps as a high profile artist he was brought in for the first chapter to either draw readers in or to define the tone and style. Something similar would happen two years later in editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat, when Ian Kennedy drew the preview issue and the first chapter to the Turbo Jones strip but then handed it over to Vanyo from #2 onwards. In the case of Super Naturals they’re now in the capable hands of Dave D’Antiquis (2000AD, Eagle and co-creator of Brigand Doom).
While John brought a horror comic feel to the origin story, especially in his depiction of Skull and his cronies, Dave’s is more of a traditional adventure strip. The story is action-packed but I do miss the more horrific interpretations of the characters. The story basically continues the fight from last time, playing out over four of the five pages and it’s highly entertaining, right down to their medieval-style speech patterns. These may feel forced to some but they make perfect sense when you take their origin story into account.
Fighting it out amongst modern 80s technology Skull and Lionheart are impressed with the vehicles and the story ends with them entering separate junk businesses to build their chariots. More on these later. The Legend of the Super Naturals would run for the length of the comic and perhaps the original idea was for it be an ongoing tale of the first months after the characters first entered our world; a way to introduce new toys and features into the stories. We’ll unfortunately never know. I like how it’s taking its time in setting up the world within which our comic will tell its tales. There’s no rush to get everyone properly introduced, to get every single toy front and centre, so it doesn’t feel forced and I like this approach so far.
While the first issue was very much a children’s horror comic with the more light-hearted Ghostlings strip in the middle, this time we’ve started with more of an adventure feel before the comedy, so with only its second issue the comic feels very different. In the Anthony Williams strip the evil Ghostlings bicker and fight about the best way to cause mayhem at a punk band concert while Spooks, See-Thru, Hooter and Mr. Lucky take centre stage in a completely different era. Accidentally travelling through a different Ghostworld exit they came out in the time of Henry VIII. Right in front of him as a matter of fact.
There are plenty of jokes and sight gags, as well as funny banter between the characters. It really does give the impression they’ve known each other for a very long time before we the readers came along. What was interesting is how it’s forbidden for the good Ghostlings to frighten a human, so when they find themselves trapped Mr Lucky turns into his giant bunny form and burrows their way out of trouble instead of simply scaring the humans away. Enjoyable silliness but now it’s finally time to get back to some frights.
It’s time to return to the foster home where brothers Simon and David Wickham are spending their first night. With his little brother sound asleep, Simon worries about earlier events and the anger he saw in David’s face over a toy. He begins to hear creaking and shuffling noises and The Doll leaps at him in the dark! But he jolts upright and realises it was just a dream. Or at least he thinks it was, it was so real. Thirsty, he heads downstairs, unaware his brother isn’t asleep at all. The panel showing this is really rather creepy. Oh I love this strip!
It’s such a shame we don’t yet know who wrote it, because whoever did clearly worked incredibly well with artist Francesc Masi to create a truly unnerving atmosphere for the young readers. We knew the doll was alive, knew it was probably in the house but we didn’t know if Simon really saw it and we certainly didn’t know where or when it could pop up next. Looking out the window Simon sees the dustbin and breathes a sign of relief, unaware of what happened at the end of the last chapter, and as he enters the kitchen in the dark we young readers were checking every inch of the panels.
The caption here echoes that of the one when David opened his eyes. The two events are linked. Reading this now I can clearly remember this issue from 1987. Well, this strip anyway and the feeling of what I now know was suspense, but which at the time was a new experience for me.
We get a little light relief when Aunt Louise comes downstairs thinking Simon was looking for a midnight snack. It’s a tender moment between the foster parent and the teenager on their first night living together, while it also teases us with hints about the past and their previous foster child Alan, who also had a fascination with the ventriloquist dummy. For a children’s comic it’s certainly doing its best to tell a story like a classic 80s horror movie.
After Louise leaves the cat startles Simon when she enters through the cat flap. She begins to hiss, apparently at him, before running back outside again. Cats normally like Simon and there’s nothing else there that could’ve scared it. Confused, he heads to bed, unaware of the shadowy presence watching his every move from the cupboard behind him, which the cat obviously sensed.
“But it isn’t in the dustbin!”The Doll
We don’t actually see the doll until the final panel of the five pages, but we somehow feel it throughout. It’s compelling even 34 years later. Even though I wouldn’t buy the next issue as a kid (something else must’ve grabbed my fickle attention) I can remember reading this instalment in bed late at night with only my bedside lamp on and the feeling it produced. The pacing is perfect and it suits being read one chapter at a time much more than binge-reading it, which for me would ruin that pacing and suspense if rushed through. It was designed to be read this way after all.
What an experience it was and for the life of me I don’t understand why I didn’t have a regular order. I was only allowed a certain amount of comics but at this early stage of my comics reading I only had two reserved (OiNK and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends). Perhaps that’s all I was allowed at the time, later I could have up to four at once. Whatever the reason, I missed out on all but the final issue. Remembering how this creeped me out I regret not experiencing the rest of it as part of the target audience.
Sandy James brings heroic leader Lionheart to life for a centre page poster and it’s classic Sandy. I especially like how the faces of the lion on the shield, Super Naturals form and complete lion form all have similar characteristics. They’re not just generic lion faces, you can tell they’re the same character.
Next up is another complete story in this issue’s Scary Cat Challenge. It’s still too early for any reader suggestions due to deadlines so another unknown writer takes the helm, as does an unknown artist. I’m making it my mission to find out more about the making of this comic but information (even from those that worked on it) is hard to come by. It really does seem to be a forgotten comic in every way, which is heartbreaking. But for now these two creators, whoever they may have been, bring us Spider.
It’s a rather basic tale of an unlikeable guy bullying his younger step-brother and then getting his comeuppance. Darren Benson sees young Clive as unmanly by his own so-called standards because he doesn’t like sport, relaxes in hot baths and helps people. From the very start we know Darren is the bad guy here. He buys a toy spider to scare Clive while a spate of deadly spider attacks are reported on the news. We know where this is headed.
The final two pages are above and I will admit the furry arachnid in the final frames is superbly drawn, highly realistic and for anyone with a fear of spiders I’m sure it would’ve made their skin crawl. It’s just a shame it’s all rather predictable and seems to end just as it gets interesting. It’s a six-page story and really could’ve used those pages to get to this stage quicker, using the remaining space to really terrify Darren and maybe have his step-brother save him or, to really scare the young readers, maybe he would’ve have. When you see what happens to some of the kids in later stories you’ll understand how this wouldn’t have been too much for this comic!
Mount of Athos is once again our final strip and I’m so glad Alan Langford hasn’t been replaced by another artist. He brings a truly epic scope to this Super Naturals tale. They feel bigger than life, which suits them perfectly of course since they’re not alive and even the toys were huge compared to their contemporaries. In Alan’s hand their other forms can be truly horrific (see Snakebite in #1 for the perfect example) and their battles Earth-shaking. The opening page looks superb but then you turn it over and this image of Skull just grabs you! I mean come on, look at him!
Skeletor never looked that good! A truly terrifying leader and a world away from the depiction in the first strip this issue. I particularly like Alan’s choice of not giving Skull eyeballs, deviating from the toy and the original comic designs by Sandy James. While the version of him in The Legend of the Super Naturals is a crazed skeleton bent on conquering via endless battling, in Mount of Athos he’s a calculating, cunning foe and has a genuinely frightening presence.
This takes place an unspecified time after the origin story so perhaps this is the character he was to evolve into, but I think it’s more likely the unknown writer and Alan simply decided on a more serious villain for their story. It certainly raises the stakes. This is also when Scary Cat reveals the hissing cat is her true form as I mentioned earlier. The evil Ghostlings finally show their fangs here too, proving they’re more than comic relief and both Eagle Eye and Skull get to show off their supernatural powers. Athos and The Doll are worth the price of admission on their own. Both are compelling reads.
Time to wrap things up for now.
On page 31 there’s a quick preview of the next issue which focuses on those so-called chariots the two sides are determined to build in their respective junk yards. The Ghost Finder and the Bat-Bopper were the two big Tonka Trucks available that Christmas and readers had already been able to check out photographs of them in the preview issue. They looked great so I’m looking forward to their inclusion in the action story next time.
Below that you’ll see the instructions for the free Lionheart mask and I can remember they actually came with little elastic bands for our ears. Funny the things classic comics dig up from our ageing memories, isn’t it? On the back page is the third Tonka competition and it’s a chance for readers to design their own Super Naturals. I’m a bit disappointed Tonka assume they’ll all be male though, but unfortunately this was par for the course back then. (What about Scary Cat?)
Just to finish, when I mentioned “the price of admission” it got me thinking about that price of 40p. It’s easy to dismiss it now, but in 1987 that placed it a little above most similar comics. Marvel‘s Transformers was 30p at the same time, albeit it on smaller paper, with 24 pages instead of 32 and less original material was needed. OiNK itself was a good bit more expensive than Fleetway‘s (publisher of Super Naturals) other humour comics due to its glossy paper and being an independently created comic yet it was 35p. Even MASK, also a licenced comic by the same publisher was 35p in November 1987. Could the price have put some parents off buying it? At the end of the day the toys weren’t a success anyway so it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
Nothing will put me off returning in two week’s time for issue three so join me back here on Sunday 28th November 2021 for more chills, thrills, action and laughs from the comic that had it all.