SUPER NATURALS #7: LICENSED TO THRiLL

After the festive cover for #5 and the fantastic montage that made up last issue’s, this Super Naturals cover by Sandy James is initially a little disappointing. But that’s only because of the comparison to the more elaborate ones that went before. It may be a lot simpler but it does focus on possibly the best of the evil Super Naturals so perhaps it’s a sign of some really fiery content. We’ll see. Inside, The Doll remains in its position as our first strip and the opening page includes this fantastic image by way of a recap.

As well as looking great, there’s another good reason behind this image of the doll looming large over the house; the little wooden murderer doesn’t actually appear in the strip this issue. Regular readers might’ve felt a little short-changed if his evil face wasn’t included somewhere, but quite possibly it was more to clue in new readers to we were dealing with. This issue’s chapter focusses entirely on Simon Wickham as he searches the house on his own, so this recap panel reminds us of the larger story and the implications of the doll’s continued survival.

Also, it’s just such a brilliant, atmospheric picture.

While the dummy doesn’t appear, this chapter has what is arguably one of the most memorable moments in Super Naturals’ whole run. Those caterpillars above make a gross reentry into the story just a few panels later as Simon thinks to himself that his chicken tastes a bit “odd”. Queue the following image which made me gag a little at the thought, I’ll admit. I do hope Francesc Masi knows how some fans reacted the artwork he produced.

Once recovered from this shock the rest of the story has Simon make his way into the cellar of the house after hearing a noise from underneath the floor. Convinced the doll is trying to scare him into inaction, he braves the dark and makes his way down. The floor is a sea of caterpillars and, after Simon becomes trapped in a crumbling staircase, they begin to crawl all over him before a cackling shape starts to rise up out of them for this issue’s cliffhanger.

Apart from the gross-out moment above, the main purpose of this chapter appears is to build upon some of the already established mysteries, such as the fate of previous foster child Alan, who is described as having met some terrible but undefined end because of the doll. Most likely in relation to this is the fact the Marshall’s cellar door is boarded up with several planks of wood. Simon has been told no one has been down there for years. Is this where Alan met his doom? Is this where the doll was trapped? Or originally found? A shocking but ultimately intriguing chapter that heightens anticipation for what could come next.

The additional features have moved up from the second half of the comic. There’s another one-page Ghostling Tale in which a scientist perfects some form of death stare to kill any living thing by looking at it. He kills his cat and several plants before looking in the mirror to congratulate himself, with predicable results. Serves him right for the cat. On Spooks‘ letters page a reader asks for Anneka Rice to be placed into the Tomb of Doom because of her continuous smile. But it appears Spooks (or should that be editor Barrie Tomlinson) is a bit of a fan. There’s also an advert to hype up the new Eagle and Battle weekly when Battle folded after a successful run of 664 issues since its creation in 1975!

A high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger

The Scary Cat Challenge has a lot to live up to this issue after the last stunning strip we were treated to last time thanks to Massimo Belardinelli‘s art. Food For Thought is based upon an idea sent in by reader Daniel Bridge of Hull. The artist is unknown at this time, although they’re definitely the same one who drew the strip featured in the very first issue. It involves a school visit to a life-size prehistoric model village and one of the kids sneaks off to rest behind some rocks away from his class on a hot summer’s day. We see this exact location in prehistoric times as rather clichéd cave people summon their god to bring them food.

Some kind of portal in time opens and they see Kenny Warren, our school kid. Initially thinking he’s a god, they soon turn on him as a trickster when he can’t produce any food for the starving group. They give chase and the main bulk of the strip is his attempt to flee, involving a high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger.

Yes, he really did just say he was always good at tobogganing! In the end it’s the usual scenario where Kenny wakes up just before he’s killed by the cave people, figuring out it’s all a dream before he spots something spooky which suggests it really happened. In this case, he still has snow on his shoes. It’s all rather tame after the spectacle in #6 but for the target audience it had a high stakes chase and big, scary prehistoric beasts so I’ll assume it went down a treat at the time.

The Legend of the Super Naturals is now in the middle of the comic and continues to build on the lore. Lionheart and Thunder Bolt materialise in England and Burnheart naturally tries to incinerate them. However, even though they’re in a weakened state from their transference (see last issue) no harm comes to them because they’re in their secondary state. Each character has their original human ghost form and their solid, real world animal form. In between is this “secondary state”, their humanoid shape but baring the features of their animal totem. It’s while in this form that they can unleash their hidden magical powers.

This is the most interesting of the various layers the comic has been adding to what the toys established, and it means the cool holograms weren’t just for looks anymore. No longer are the battles just simple fist fights and magic spells, each of their forms carries advantages and disadvantages for all of them and I just hope this can be built upon further before the final edition. The battles in this issue are certainly a step up from all that came before! It’d be such a shame to see all of this potential go unrealised, much like fellow holographic toy franchise comic, Visionaries.

We’ve also had a change in artist which I failed to mention last time. The first chapter’s creepy art was expertly crafted by John Gillatt before Dave D’Antiquis brought a more action-packed approach to the strip. Now, regular contributor to Barrie’s comics Sandy James takes the helm. Known for his full-colour covers and posters, at first I didn’t recognise the art as his, simply because it’s unusual for me to see his work in black and white (he also drew a fantastic full-colour strip for Ring Raiders). The solid line work, this version of Skull and the panel showing the Tomb of Doom (of which he drew a poster for #1) are classic Sandy.

Speaking of his posters, this page below takes up the middle pages and takes a break from the usual individual character portraits to bring us the evil Super Naturals’ vehicle, the Bat Bopper. Tonka were renowned for their toy trucks and the ones in the Super Naturals range looked they would’ve been great fun to have as a kid.

After seeing it munch its way through a wall at the end of last issue’s The Curse it’s confirmed here that it’s a sentient being in its own right. The ghostly face on the front was a superb three-dimensional hologram on the toy and I remember the adverts featured it rearing up on its back wheels as described here. As always Sandy has produced a very colourful, fun poster and it’s probably my favourite so far thanks to it being much more detailed than previous ones.

Moving on to our more light-hearted strip, Ghostlings. Drawn by Anthony Williams, Spooks takes up arms (geddit?) against the future human tribe’s enemies. In fact, he even gets a little bit carried away with all of the bravado in this funny moment as the last of the Crevice-Crawlers makes its escape.

The human Troggers still claim all of this was foretold and want to elevate Spooks to be their leader, to protect as they reclaim the surface. But Spooks knows he can’t abandon his comrades and so uses the fact he’s about as typical a ghost as you can get and disappears, materialising outside. However, he then has to sneak past the guards because he’s used up all his energy and can’t disappear again. This must mean he can’t even slide through walls (or in this case the rocks) like a ghost normally would until he recovers.

Initially I thought the cliffhanger didn’t make any sense (you can see it below). My first reaction was one of confusion, I’ll admit. He’s a ghost, surely the rock would just pass through him. But rereading his dilemma above I’m going to assume the fact he can’t disintegrate himself or pass through the rocks is the basis for the cliffhanger, as he could actually get crushed now. Of course the perpetuator of this falling boulder, Weird Wolf wouldn’t have known all this, so it still begs the question why would he think this would hurt a ghost.

I’m well aware I’m probably overthinking this children’s comic. But that’s the thing with reading these childhood favourites without the rose-tinted glasses. We may remember the wonder and enjoyment these comics brought and reliving those feelings is great fun, but we also can’t help but view them through jaded adult eyes. I think I’m right though about Spooks’ energy being low and that’s the reason behind the ending. I have faith the answer will be forthcoming in 14 days.

The final strip continues Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat‘s Christmas Day quest to find the Tomb of Britannicus in 19th Century London and unleash his dire curse upon the world. As I predicted last time the human soldiers the good Super Naturals Lionheart, Eagle Eye and Spooks find themselves up against can cause them no harm in their primary form but their Ghost Finder vehicle is vulnerable. They can’t lose their transportation or they’ll never catch or defeat Skull in his. They also can’t transform into their animal forms because they could be gunned down, but most importantly to Lionheart they can’t scare the men away, not when the soldiers have guns and in their panic could hurt each other.

In the end, as the terrified men realise their bullets are simply passing through the so-called “fiends”, their commander takes charge with a sword, only for a very apologetic Eagle Eye to grab him by the throat, instantly putting the man to sleep. He tries to explain to the troops that they’re here to help and he salutes them as he leaves, but he knows how fear and reason make bad bedfellows and so he casts a “Blessing of Forgetfulness” over them and they fall asleep too. It shows how they have to be more thoughtful in their dealings with us humans, not just simply blasting through in the name of the greater good. It’s quite refreshing, actually.

So the tomb has been found and as Burnheart goes to stand guard outside (knowing Eagle Eye will sense where they are) he leaves his flame gun behind so his leader can unleash the curse. We’ve seen reference to their weapons running low and having to recharge their magical energies in previous issues. It makes for a funny moment when the magical power of Burnheart’s gun runs out, leaving the all-conquering Skull and his frightful Ghostling quite literally left in the dark as to what to do.

The Doll’s skin-crawling moments aside this issue might be short on the frights but it’s been a really entertaining read nonetheless. With more being established about the licenced characters the writers (most likely Barrie Tomlinson and James Nicholas at least) are really getting to grips with them and it shows. I could easily have said the non-licenced strips were the highlights in most of the previous issues but here the Super Naturals themselves have reclaimed their namesake comic in three highly entertaining tales that have left me eager for more.

It’s just as well #8 is already sitting here on my shelf waiting to be devoured for the next review on Sunday 6th February 2022. A curse upon you if you’re not here on that day.

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