SUPER NATURALS #4: MURDER & MAYHEM

The latest issue of editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Super Naturals from Fleetway decided the best way to get new readers on board was to bribe them with cold, hard cash. I’m joking, of course, the fact was this Sandy James cover informed potential readers of the prizes for their submissions used in the pages of the comic. As Super Naturals continued some of the best strips would be those based on reader ideas too. For now though, let’s stick to the issue at hand and it kicks off as usual with the latest chapter of The Legend of the Super Naturals, as drawn by Dave D’Antiquis.

Continuing to terrorise the streets of New Orleans during Hallowe’en 1987, the evil forces of Skull seem to be having the time of their afterlives, especially when human law enforcement begins to fight back. The police officers are easily dispatched by Snake Bite who transforms, hypnotising them to the spot.  As he closes in to bite them (and kill them I’m assuming) Lionheart and his noble warriors turn up to save the day.  Or at least attempt to.

The thing is Skull is on a roll with his seemingly unstoppable Bat Bopper truck. He goes beyond the police lines, seeking out the military defence cordon we saw mobilise last time. But they’re nothing against this possessed vehicle, their weaponry literally bouncing off the supernatural force behind it. Just to drive home the point it rams the tanks, flipping them out of the way as if they themselves were toys and firing bat bombs at the approaching air forces.

As is the case in stories like this we humans can’t tell the difference between the good and bad guys when we’re faced with something different and the strip ends with Eagle Eye fired upon in his bird form after a pilot saw him transform. Of course, Eagle Eye actually did so in order to take to the air and help protect the pilots. What’s curious here is how he refers to his ‘Power of Truth’ at one stage, but that just results in a powerful energy beam coming from his chest in the midst of battle with his foes. Surely that power would be used to force people to tell the truth?

Anyway, Legend sets quite the pace and while it remains light on plot it continues to do its job of introducing our characters and their abilities brilliantly. This chapter in particular feels like a truly huge battle, the reader left wondering if there could ever be anything us humans could do to stand up against these supernatural forces if they truly turned against us. Or are we forever to rely on the good guys to swoop in and save us, which given the fact we’re shooting them down doesn’t bode well. A good bit of old-fashioned, grand scale action to begin proceedings before we move on to the light-hearted Ghostlings drawn by Anthony Williams.

A new story begins this issue and it has the potential to be quite interesting and a lot of fun. Colliding as they crash through another barrier from Ghostworld, the opposing forces of good and evil appear to have lost a couple of their helpers. Both Weird Wolf and Spooks have fallen off at the moment of transition and ended up in some kind of limbo or void between realities, or so it initially seems. There are only hints so far about where they actually are and I like that, adding a bit of mystery to the fun.

All we know is they’re somewhere no human has ever been before. When faced with a giant dinosaur-like creature Spooks immediately concludes they’ve been thrust into the past but Weird Wolf isn’t so sure. For once the dimwitted punk rocker may be on to something. The dino only has one eye and he’s never heard of anything like it before in all his years. Most of all, he sees a chance to do a rare thing for a Ghostling and make a meaningful contribution to the cause.

It’s actually not a bad plan. While the first Ghostlings strip was fun (and actually quite funny in places) this one is far more interesting. Everything from the sudden change in setting, the mystery behind it and Weird Wolf becoming more than the petulant teen wolf of previous issues is really enjoyable. This is only four pages into the tale so I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. A big improvement so far.

Now we go from the interesting to the outright murderous, right from the very first panel! Knowing this is a comic aimed at kids who were the same age as me at the time (that is, roughly ten-years-old or so) this is quite the shocking image from artist Francesc Masi when you turn the page. Any mystery behind whether The Doll would actually kill is wiped away here, but what’s even more shocking is the reveal in the second panel.

Initially, just for a second, I thought the fact it was just younger brother David Wickham was to alleviate any horror from the opening, but then I thought about it and it’s so much worse! David’s face says a lot about his state of mind and if you think about it, that first panel is very clear in its intentions, so finding out David was attached to the doll makes this all the creepier.

This is a particularly dark episode of the story. Hearing the commotion, their foster dad enters the room and David throws the doll at Simon for him to take the blame of rescuing it from the bin outside. Well, actually there’s a hint the doll may have leapt onto Simon by itself, but it’s deliberately not overly obvious. Uncle Frank understandably goes ballistic (see earlier reviews to understand why) and, grabbing Simon by the ear, marches them all to the fireplace and throws the doll into the flames. (The scene is completed with a tiny safety message from the comic.)

We know this won’t be the end though, and just a short while later a noise from the living room alerts the family and they find the doll has somehow fallen out of the fire. It would seem the fireguard wasn’t secured properly (or was unlocked from the inside) and the doll’s charred remains have set the carpet ablaze. Again, it’s all smoke (literally in this case) and mirrors.

The Marshalls’ teenage son Clive goes to lift the toy to throw it outside but burns his hand. However, David picks it up with ease, proclaiming Clive must’ve been “unlucky” and touched the wrong bit. Frank is furious, blaming Simon for everything and after the fire brigade have put out the fire he asks them to dispose of the “rubbish” that caused it. This leads on to the final page of the strip for this issue in which a homeless man searching for scraps of food does so in the same skip.

The individual events here might seem a little clichéd today but taken altogether they make for a tense read even now. You also have to remember this was written in 1987 and for an audience who wouldn’t have been exposed to horror films yet. For all intents and purposes this was their introduction to the genre, and let’s make no bones about it, that homeless man has been murdered by the doll. Its capabilities are now very clear.

Two of the letters sent in by young readers were illustrated by Tom Williams which was quite the honour.

That could be harrowing stuff for young kids and while I only read the first two issues (and the last) back then, what I did read did frighten me. I don’t know what this chapter would’ve done, but I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it. Oh how the other kids in the playground loved being scared by this character. It was fun to be scared by a comic, knowing it was just that, a comic, and we could stop at any time, close it and walk off. But we dared ourselves on to read more and kept coming back.

Reader contributions were gathering pace with this issue. Not only was there a gallery page for drawings, A Letter From Spooks had a double-page spread. Two of the letters sent in by young readers were also illustrated by Tom Williams (Creature Teacher, Tiny Tycoon, Dandy and Beano Comic Libraries) which was quite the honour. One asked Mr Lucky to cast a magic spell for better weather, the other asked Rags to wrap up the reader’s school bus driver!

What could be better than seeing your idea brought to life by a pro and then receiving a fiver in the post for it? How about receiving a tenner in the post when one of Super Naturals’ writers and another pro comics artist turned your story idea into a full six-page strip? That’s exactly what happened for reader Tony Ashworth when his idea became the first to be used for the Scary Cat Challenge.

His Monster of the Lake is a basic tale but it’s well presented and oozes atmosphere. It begins millions of years ago as a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Brontosaurus fight to the death atop a cliff face. Spanish artist Julio Vivas (Tammy, Jinty, Valentine) really exaggerates the creatures which, while they’re not for me, I’m sure young Tony appreciated. The Brontosaurus (which wouldn’t really have been a fighter like this) triumphs and the T-rex falls to its death beneath the waves.

Through some unclear imagery we surmise she was pregnant and for whatever reason the egg inside not only remains perfectly preserved as her body decomposes, but over millions of years grows to huge proportions. None of this is explained. But millions of years later is where we pick up the story when Lieutenant-Commander John Cartwright‘s nuclear submarine hits the giant egg and unleashes a T-rex upon his boat. Again, how did it survive in there? Who knows. It even absorbs one of the Commander’s missiles, then destroys the sub and kills all on board.

Eleven years later young Kevin Cartwright is being taken on a camping trip by his mum to the lake where his dad, John, died under mysterious circumstances. Yes, I wondered why they’d want to do that too. During the night Kevin is summoned by a mysterious voice telling him to walk to a certain cliff face near the lake. Sleepwalking, completely unaware of where he is or what he’s doing, he comes face to face with the dinosaur who lashes out at the young boy.


“I build the flames of my being to the strength of a thousand furnaces!”

Burnheart

But Kevin starts to emit a ghostly glow, startling the ‘rex who then topples over the same cliff as featured earlier. It’s a story full of plot holes but that could be more to do with it being based on a young reader’s imagination and perhaps a younger me wouldn’t have cared. But it does have some nice imagery in the latter pages, like the panel showing the passage of time after the sub is destroyed and the final image of father and son.

Much better is the final part of Mount of Athos, as ever drawn to epic proportions by Alan Langford. Each issue, the opening panels of this story have really drawn me in and this time is no different, with his superb depiction of Skull looking on as Burnheart transforms into living flame, ready to destroy the symbol of peace they’ve all been fighting over. It’s a dramatic opening worthy of the longest-running comics of the time, once again making me lament the fact this publication wasn’t to sit alongside them.

Just as Alan crafted his own version of Skull from the toy design, his Burnheart disregards the fiery face the toy’s action figure and shield had. It was never too obvious anyway and was a subtle face in the flames, but Alan instead opts for pure flame and I think it works so much better. It’s scarier to have pure fire, it feels more dangerous than a spooky face.

In this last chapter of the best licenced strip so far, it all boils down to a bit of quick thinking deception by Lionheart. First, Scary Cat transforms into her feline form (which last issue revealed was her original, true form) to take the container from him by force and once again Alan knocks it out of the park. A stray cat is no match against a lion and ultimately she’s thrown aside, so it’s only a small moment but I just love how it’s been drawn, particularly the attacking cat emerging from the disappearing form of the old witch.

He seems to particularly relish bringing the evil Super Naturals to the page and I hope, like editor Barrie’s Ring Raiders where the same creative teams would continue to bring each subsequent serial to life, that Alan returns for the next story. We’ll find out in a fortnight.

The battle has gone back and forth several times by this point over the issues, frustrating Lionheart so much he appears to suddenly lose it! Screaming at Skull and his henchmen for daring to challenge him he transforms into his lion persona and takes them all down in a wild fury. However, he knows this will only delay them, that the battle can’t be won and so in desperation decides on another way of getting the relic out of Skull’s reach, which involves a bit of trickery.

Hiding the actual contents of the casket under a heavy stone in the body of the monastery, he makes a run for it with the now empty canister. Apparently backed into a corner overlooking a cliff he has no option but to throw the canister over the edge into a vast forest below in a final desperate bid to push it beyond the reach of Skull.

Of course, it’s not a desperate bid and even getting cornered was deliberate. Skull and the others take off after the relics. There’s no longer a need to waste time by doing battle, they will spend their time hunting them down and destroying them instead, despite the size of the forest below. He questions Lionheart’s rationale and later we see him come to the realisation he’s been duped.

It’s a basic idea but it’s still early days for the comic and the character of Lionheart, however it’s great to see him beginning to grow beyond the valiant fighting warrior. His character has just started to come through and I’m hoping we get to see more of it before we get to the end of the comic’s short run. The story itself has been a blast but it’s the imagery that will stay with me, with plenty of epic scenes and creepy imagery for fans to lap up.

With the back page competition being the exact same as the one in #1 all there is left to write about is the Next Issue promo.

The fifth issue gets a full page of promotion because it’s the Christmas issue! Christmas editions of comics are always special, especially for me because it’s not only my favourite time of the year, it’s one of my very favourite things about life in general! It looks like a good few of our stories are going to be festive entries too and that front cover is another Ian Kennedy masterpiece. So plenty to look forward to. After all, there’s nothing quite like good ghost stories at Christmas time.

The date on the cover is 26th December but it would’ve been released early because of publisher deadlines and limited opening hours for our shops. While the whole point of this site is to read everything in real time I’ve no way of knowing the exact date it would’ve come out before Christmas, so I’ll be sticking to the date on the cover. So come back on Boxing Day for the full review of Super Naturals #5.

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