Super Naturals and Wildcat may have been released a year apart but they shared more than their editor, their fifth issues were also their festive specials. I’m a huge fan of Christmas but even I would’ve forgiven the Super Naturals team for not going overboard since the comic had just begun, however editor Barrie Tomlinson made sure it was a special treat with festive themes in four of the five strips, as well as an additional one-page strip, decorative trimmings around the letters page, a Christmassy poster and that fun Ian Kennedy cover of the Ghost Finder and its crew.
The issue is dated Boxing Day but would’ve been released early, arriving into eager young hands a few days before Christmas Day which, given the cover and the contents would’ve made for a wonderful treat. I just can’t help but feel happy when reading a seasonal issue of a favourite comic and this is one of the very best examples. Ghost stories always go down well at this time of year too, so surely this is a comic that can’t fail to entertain. Let’s see.
I was surprised when I picked up this issue because the glossy paper had gone, replaced with the same matte-finish stock all other Fleetway comics had at the time. But that doesn’t take away from any of the enjoyment in our first story, The Legend of the Super Naturals drawn by Dave D’Antiquis, which quite literally heads off in a different direction. The battle in New Orleans comes to its conclusion but not before Eagle Eye‘s predicament raises some interesting questions.
He’s injured when fired upon by an Air Force jet while transformed into the eagle, but when he changes back to his humanoid form he’s healed and the bullets pass straight through him. The healing part has already been established in the comic, he’s already dead after all, and they can’t actually kill each other never mind us having a shot at it. But it appears they don’t turn into mystical versions of their animal totems, they must actually turn into real, solid animals, capable of being killed. It certainly adds another dimension to the set up and one I hope is explored more. For now, he’s rescued by Spooks before Skull decides to take his team across the Atlantic (the trucks can fly) to England to destroy the mythical Excalibur and show them evil now rules. Told you it was heading off in a different direction for the new year!
In Ghostlings, drawn by Anthony Williams, we get confirmation it is indeed set on Earth in the far future where humans have regressed and now live in fear underground, calling themselves Guardians of the Underworld (so our self-importance hasn’t diminished then). What they live in fear of are the Surface Stompers, the dinosaur-like creatures we’ve seen already and the Crevice-Crawlers which are giant, intelligent, talking insect-like beings that prey on the humans for food. Spooks is rescued by these future humans when he becomes trapped amongst rocks after being pushed over a cliff by Weird Wolf. I’ll assume it’s his clothing that’s stuck, not him, seeing as how he’s a ghost and all.
While trapped his supernatural powers are able to recognise the time of year on this future Earth as Christmas and he reminisces about when he was alive centuries earlier. When he’s rescued he discovers the humans have a Christmas tree in their caves, although they don’t recognise the name, only that it’s a tradition they follow despite the meaning being lost centuries ago. The story ends with a cliffhanger for Weird Wolf as he encounters the beasts above ground. There’s also mention of a Rock-Ruler, so there’s definitely more scenario building to come. While Christmas feels a bit forced into this one, it’s still as interesting as last issue and shows the potential for Super Naturals stories to really go anywhere.
Moving on and hopefully the setting can finally put to rest the myth that The Doll was produced for another comic (just published within the pages of Super Naturals). I’ve known this all along but some online refuse to accept such a quality horror strip was intended for a licenced toy comic. In this seasonal issue the strip jumps forward a little, the ground is covered in snow as the police pull the body of the dead homeless man from the skip outside the Marshal’s home, while an evil figure watches from the roof, where clearly it’s been gleefully watching for a while as it’s covered in a thick layer of snow.
After Simon saves his foster dad from a falling roof slate (I wonder how that happened), noticing how his younger brother David didn’t even flinch when it fell, the story skips forward to Christmas Day. Peace has descended upon the house. It’s clear the doll’s presence hasn’t been felt in a while and David is glum as the family open gifts from each other. This doesn’t go unnoticed and the Marshals try hard to cheer him up, even giving him a brand new ventriloquist’s dummy! A window smashes at this exact moment and it’s assumed vandals threw something from outside, but Simon isn’t so sure.
The glass is all on the outside, meaning it was broken from inside the house. But how? A game of hide and seek brings the answers out into the open but first I do love a certain panel here. First, look at the one above on the right where Simon is convinced the doll was responsible but he can’t see anywhere for it to hide. Of course the readers’ eyes are drawn to the Santa Claus ornament on the side table, but it’s the next panel which I’m sure stuck in the minds of all those young readers, as Simon turns to leave.
Artist Francesc Masi is just superb at conveying real threat from what is essentially a toy. Again, the suspense is palpable in this chapter. What on the surface might’ve looked like a diversion from the main story to placate the Christmas issue is anything but. A game of hide and seek in the house builds tension with Simon hiding in dark, cramped places, hearing noises but then just discovering other family members in there with him. Meanwhile foster father Frank sneaks about the house looking for everyone when he comes across the new dummy torn to pieces, then hears a terrible scream as the doll swings down from a curtain, the arm of the new toy in its mouth, hurling himself at Frank as the chapter closes.
While it’s only a toy arm full of foam padding, the meaning is clear; the doll has ‘killed’ its replacement and now intends to take revenge on the person responsible for its purchase. In the final panel there’s the usual caption asking readers to send in their ideas for what could happen next, any printed on the letters page earning their senders a crisp five pound note. Perhaps this was included to balance out any shock from the last panels? Instead of the children having a murderous cliffhanger in their minds, instead they’d be thinking of what they would have happen next? It’s a good idea and no other strip does this.
A wonderful, colourful poster by Sandy James brings a rare piece of relief and happiness for the good Ghostlings, but not so much for their evil counterparts who are strung up and used as decorations on the Super Naturals Christmas tree. After that there’s a festively decorated double-page spread of letters before we move on to the The Scary Cat Challenge and the second in the series based on an idea sent in by a reader. This time it was Clive Sheppard of Lincoln who got two Christmas gifts of a £10 prize and the pleasure of seeing his imagination brought to life in his favourite comic.
Finding an empty box among their Christmas presents, an unnamed family decides it must have been wrapped up by accident and placed underneath the tree. No one owns up to the error and they simply decide to ignore it and go about celebrating the rest of Christmas Day. However, while they’re eating breakfast in the next room a mist rises out of the empty, unwrapped box and slowly takes on a ghostly shape.
Obviously surprised to find a strange old man in their living room the father of the house goes to ring the police, but the rest of the family implore him not to. Looking dishevelled and hungry, they don’t have the heart to turn him out on this particular day of the year, instead inviting him to stay for Christmas dinner. He remains mysterious about where he came from but this doesn’t appear to put the kind-hearted family off and soon they’re all gathered around the table. After dinner they realise they forgot the crackers and this is when the visitor reveals he isn’t any old homeless person.
From the cracker pulled by dad spills thousand of pounds in notes, from mum’s comes handful after handful of diamonds. When the children pull theirs a magical dust fills the room. “The stuff dreams are made of” explains the old man as he takes their hands and they begin to fly, visiting the moon, the pyramids, undersea reefs, the Himalayas and then flying back home sitting on the back of Concorde.
The family are awestruck and want to thank him but he insists he was the one who needed to thank them; they gave a stranger a warm place to be on Christmas Day, opening their home and their hearts and sharing their food. One of the young boys asks what would’ve happened if their dad had called the police and he shows them an illusion of all their worldly belongings disappearing and the whole family ageing far beyond their years. As he cancels the illusion he leaves their house and looks out through the page to the readers and wonders aloud who he could be visiting the next year.
The message is clear to the impressionable youth and is one that’s just as important in the world we now find ourselves in: Be kind. While it does centre around material possessions it’s actually a nice little metaphor for Christmas itself and taking that spirit of giving with you everywhere, and not just once a year. So not a scary tale but a nice addition to this particular issue before we head on to the new serial drawn by Alan Langford, which I was very pleasantly surprised to see starting off with possibly the most Christmassy of Christmas opening pages possible.
Last time the excellent Mount of Athos came to an end and I’ve tentatively waited to see what the team would replace it with. Thankfully keeping Alan on to draw it, The Curse starts off with this gorgeous page of a festive Victorian London. The title at the top stands in stark contrast with the artwork which wouldn’t look out of place on a greetings card. But turn the page and into this Dickensian scene crashes Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat on the Bat Bopper.
This opening chapter is all about setting the scene and it does a wonderful job. It feels like Alan has really got to grips with these characters and having a great time drawing their creepy adventures. In the end, as they make their way up the Thames we find out Skull and his cronies are in search of the Tomb of Britannicus, the last resting place for a savage barbarian sorcerer, who if released is said to bring evil never seen before upon the world who entombed him. But first there’s the obligatory chase as Lionheart and his heroes give chase.
As you can see the evil Super Naturals have caused destruction and terror in no time at all, though the strip does manage to squeeze in some comedy. For example, at one point the horse on the first page bolts, the family inside thrown from their carriage as it crashes and their Christmas supplies are strewn everywhere, including their turkey which Burnheart can’t resist roasting with this flame power as he speeds past it!
“London, 1972. Under a drift of gentle snow, the city glows with all the festivity of Christmas Eve!”The Curse
While I have no idea what Spooks is on about when he says he’s going so fast he’s almost overtaking himself (that just makes no sense whatsoever) I do enjoy how the humans are just as terrified of them and how they’re stopped by Skull taking out an enter house. Great action, gorgeous visuals and a real festive ghost story feel to it all. Wonderful stuff and already a worthy follow-up to the Mount of Athos, which is no small feat.
One final thing before I wrap up this review. You remember how our comics had little coupons to cut out and give to our newsagents, or small reminders to place our orders so we never missed out on an issue? Well, Super Naturals decided to do something a little different (in keeping with the comic as a whole) and gave us a full-page strip. While it doesn’t actually say anything about placing a regular order it kind of works in that regard and really would’ve make a wonderful advert to have appeared in other Fleetway comics at the time.
It’s actually the first in a series of small stories which would all fall under the banner A Ghostling Tale, each hosted by a different character. Another nice little addition to the comic.
So that’s it for now. This has been a blast from beginning to end. Having the Christmas vibe throughout was a surprise and an absolute delight, but then again maybe I shouldn’t have expect anything less from Barrie Tomlinson! Issues like this reaffirm the whole concept of this site. If I’d just binged on this series earlier in the year it wouldn’t have been as special as reading this now at Christmastime, it’s been evermore enjoyable reading it in real time. The next review will be here on Sunday 9th January 2022 and it would appear there’s a lot to look forward to in the New Year.