This review was due on 20th February, click here to find out about the delay. More catch-ups to come this week.
Alas, we come to the end of a superb run of comics. Editor Barrie Tomlinson’s Super Naturals has been such fun and, while there are still two specials to come, the fact this is the end of all the ongoing serials is a sad moment. Things kicks off for the final time with this intense image of the doll by Francesc Masi and I’ve some faint memory of seeing this cover at a few friends’ houses at the time. They all loved being scared its story!
It’s not all an original, with the panel of David falling into the water taken from the strip instead. The image of the doll is one we haven’t seen before though. When you think about it, it’s a bold move to feature the non-licenced strip on the cover of a licenced toy comic. That beautiful bold logo aside there’s nothing associated with the Tonka toys on display. To me, this sums up the anthology feel of Super Naturals and its original approach to a licence title. But inside we start as always with one of the strips based on the toys The Legend of the Super Naturals, drawn by Sandy James.
It all begins with the good guys dealing with the aftershocks of Skull‘s attack on the English village last issue. But instead of the drama of trying to save the town while being attacked by the terrified villagers, the Bat Bopper and its crew simply swoop in and Hooter casts a spell. Poof! All solved. It’s clear this Excalibur story was to continue for at least another issue or two before moving on, but needs must, what with this being the final edition.
Eagle-Eye‘s selflessness in instantly transferring himself into battle in a weakened state doesn’t have the tension it should’ve had because his friends once again swoop in on their flying vehicle to save him and quite easily defeat the evil Super Naturals, even they’ve been pretty evenly matched with them since the outset. Meanwhile, Skull has gone ahead to the lake and summons King Arthur’s sword. It’s here we get some genuine comedic moments and an inkling of where the comic could’ve gone in the future.
I love the way the mythical Lady of the Lake just plays with Skull before giving him a cheeky bop across the head. It’s a funny, surprising moment and it could’ve opened the door to these characters interacting with mythical, magical legends from throughout our history. I mean, the Super Naturals themselves fit that description, so why not? But for now this is all we’d see of this potential.
The Legend of the Super Naturals has been gathering pace in recent weeks, becoming the best of the licenced material by far, which makes the final page here all the more frustrating. I know it couldn’t be helped, the plug had been pulled and they had to try and wrap it all up. My frustration and disappointment doesn’t lie with anyone working on the comic, rather with the fact the comic was cancelled in the first place, putting the creative team in this position.
Between Mr. Lucky telling us the evil ones have been thrown back through the Tomb of Doom and Spooks mentioning what happened with Excalibur, both occurring off-page, it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. Then we see Skull, trapped in our real world with the Bat Bopper, which in itself could’ve made for an interesting tale, their leader trapped here with no way back and no henchmen to assist him. I think this serial would’ve been written by Barrie himself since it’s the main story, and he’s done everything he can to give us an ending, which is to be commended.
Next up are the reader contribution pages and as per usual there’s a page of drawings followed by the Letter From Spooks letters pages. There’s a particularly good drawing of Thunder Bolt from reader Christopher Evans which deserved to be a lot bigger so I’ve zoomed right in to show you it. Then the letters pages open with a sad note which I can remember bummed me out big time as a kid, even though I wasn’t a regular reader.
I’d been interested in the toys when I first saw the advertisements on the TV in the Autumn of 1987 and Santa did bring me a Ghostling (Scary Cat). But between seeing those adverts and Christmas itself Hasbro’s Visionaries had grabbed my attention and so I concentrated on them that holiday season instead. I did buy the first two issues of Super Naturals and really enjoyed them, but my attention was being pulled elsewhere. However, in the new year of 1988 my interest in Tonka’s toy line resurfaced. I knew the Visionaries line had been cancelled and when I saw all the cool looking figures and trucks on the back of Scary Cat’s packaging I wanted more!
I reread the comics I had and loved them, so one day on the way to the dentist I picked up the latest issue. It’s funny the things we remember, isn’t it? I have this memory buried somewhere in my grey cells of being in the back of my late nanny’s car, with my mum in the front on our way back home. I was excited because these toys and comics were going to be my new fascination and the first story (above) completely rocked! I loved it! I was convinced I’d found my new obsession, so you can imagine how gutted I was when I read Spooks’ introduction.
I didn’t understand why it was finishing so soon. I just assumed comics kept on going. I was in a household where my brother read the Beano and Roy of the Rovers (another of Barrie’s titles) and OiNK was still going strong at this stage. The previous magazines I’d collected had been Story Teller partworks which had a pre-planned run, but comics weren’t supposed to end, definitely not after nine issues. I was really upset and within the space of 10 minutes had gone from wanting to go to the toy shop to thinking there was no point, so I never did collect them.
This sad news is quickly followed up by this full-page advert for the Super Naturals Adventure Book (see here) as a way of perking up the readers and I’m sure for regular devotees it helped ease the pain. The thing is, as I now read through the rest of this issue nothing is jumping out at me with any form of recognition. It could be I simply don’t remember reading these stories, but I now wonder if I read them at all when I got home that day, knowing there were no more to come.
So while I did own this issue the rest of it feels brand new to these eyes. First up is the final Scary Cat Challenge. Genie is based on an idea sent in by reader Keith Scott and drawn by Alan Burrows (Beano, Red Dwarf, Transformers). It begins as we meet trespassing kid Jason Watkins just before he discovers an old lamp after falling through the roof of some buried Roman ruins. The genie that pops out is brilliantly snarky, a far cry from those we’d seen in movies up to this point (before Disney‘s Aladdin). Young Jason wishes himself out of the pit and is flown out by the magic of the genie. Awed by this, Jason starts to eye up what else he could wish for.
He sees some of the popular school kids nearby on their skateboards and wishes he had all the latest gear and the skills to match. Moments later he’s making new friends, whom he soon confides in by showing them the lamp. He begins to wish for treasure (“Getting greedy now are we?”, booms the Genie, knowing where this is headed) and then a palace with servants and everything. He demands his new friends kneel before him, and when they don’t he wishes for them to be thrown in the dungeon!
This the Genie does not obey and instead warns the boy that while no harm will come to the other kids, some harm will come to him if he carries on down this path. But Jason won’t listen, he knows the Genie must serve his every need. His final wish is to do something no human has ever done before, to travel at the speed of light. The genie all too happily grants this wish and we see Jason take to the sky, travelling faster and faster until his body starts to break apart! At this point the comic clarifies what has happened.
But just before his transformation into those zillions of particles is complete he screams one more wish to the Genie and it’s here we get our twist ending. Just as he’s about to disappear he wishes for everything to return to that moment before he found the lamp. It’s the last new wish he’ll ever make, because the genie places him back where we found him on that first page, unaware of what has happened and he stumbles upon the lamp all over again, thus beginning a never-ending cycle for all eternity.
So initially, I thought the strip would end with Jason alone and friendless. He’d be wealthy beyond imagination but would have learned the lesson that this alone can’t buy happiness. I should’ve known better than to guess where a strip in this comic was headed. Scary Cat herself returns to wish us harm instead of the usual request for more story ideas, and that’s the final reader story we’ll see. Such a shame. I’m not aware of how detailed the original ideas were, or how much of each plot was taken from the readers or crafted by the writer, but it’d be interesting to find out. When reading these strips and seeing the letters and drawings sent in it’s clear Super Naturals had fired some great imaginations.
Since it’s the final issue and the last of Sandy James‘ posters I thought I’d better show it off to you and Snakebite is the star of the middle pages this time. We don’t get to see his full snake form but it does seem the comic has settled on how to consistently refer to each form a Super Natural can take and in which order. That’s a brilliant shield totem design too.
So here we are then, the moment a lot of readers of these reviews have been waiting for, it’s the final chapter of The Doll! Will we get an ending? Will it be a satisfying one? Will it be left open-ended even though with hindsight we know the strip would never return? It kicks off with Simon saving his foster dad’s life when he spots a caterpillar on his hospital drip, a doctor confirming it had been tampered with. A few minutes more and Frank would’ve been dead.
Leaving the hospital with his foster mum Louise, Simon demands to know the truth at last about their previous foster son Alan. We’ve had hints of his story before but never all the details. Now we get to know all about the doll’s previous interference in their lives right before we see history about to repeat itself. I’ll admit there is a feeling of things needing to be tied up here rather than this being the natural ending point, but it’s a necessary evil in this case and it’s carried off more successfully this time.
We finally get to see just how crazed Alan became under the doll’s control, a stage that young David hadn’t gotten to until the final panel on this page. I do like the background of how the doll became a part of their lives. Alan’s dad was part of a travelling circus as a magical ventriloquist. (Obviously we know why he appeared to be so good at it!) But he died in a mysterious circus fire and when the doll is handed on to Alan the Marshal’s almost ended up dying the same way. This repeating of events is key here. It’s the doll’s whole MO.
Clearly not expecting them back quite so soon, the doll is taken by surprise during it’s final acts of destruction at the home before, I would assume, he was to set it alight. He bursts out through the window, David apparently willingly going with him. Giving chase, Louise and Simon are horrified to see David running down to the lock where Alan had died. David falls in, in exactly the same place but the key difference here is Simon being on hand and he dives straight in to save his brother.
We then get the obligatory family scenes of everyone together by Frank’s hospital bed. Everything is going to be okay again. A happy ending for all involved. Except, this is a children’s horror comic so we can’t just leave it at that, can we? Of course not. So the final two panels see the suitcase containing our murderous doll pop back up to the surface of the water down by the lock, an evil laugh emanating from within.
And that’s where the strip is left, never to return.
I don’t think it was meant to end quite so quickly. If this had all happened a handful of issues later, would the doll have been picked up by someone else to terrify anew? Or would we have had a brand new strip in its place, with perhaps the chance of its return at a later point? We’ll never know. This last chapter does raise some questions, ones which unfortunately will go unanswered.
Why did the doll come back to this particular family? Was it hiding out in the basement waiting for another susceptible foster kid to turn up so it could take revenge out on the family? Why was the basement all sealed up tight by Frank? If he thought the doll would return why not just move home? Why did the doll make both Alan and David run for the lock? Was that simply its best means of escape since it worked before? (Also, last issue we saw David fighting the doll’s grip but we never got a chance to see that elaborated on.) Don’t get me wrong, having so many unanswered questions isn’t a slight on the writing here, not at all. I’m positive these mysteries were laid out with full intentions of being answered later if not for the comic’s cancellation.
What we have ended up with though is a 38-page children’s horror masterpiece (it began with five pages per issue but quickly became four) which deserves to be reprinted in its own graphic novel, perhaps with some of the better Scary Cat Challenge strips to make the page count up. It’s been full of suspense, some genuinely creepy moments even for this adult reader and plenty of thrills worthy of all the playground talk at the time. It was definitely a surprise for it to be part of a licensed toy comic, but let me put a certain myth to bed right now. No, The Doll was not made for another publication and then shoved into Super Naturals. It had a perfectly timed Christmas episode, interactive elements for readers to send in suggestions for and a conclusion in the final issue. I personally think it was a genius move to include this in Super Naturals, it hooked a few of my friends into buying (and reading) the whole comic who had no interest in the toys!
While The Doll was clearly brought to an earlier end than originally planned, it didn’t detract too much from the impact of its final chapter. Such a pity the same can’t be said of Ghostlings. I still love Anthony Williams‘ art but I’ve not been particularly enamoured with this story I have to say. The cliffhanger happening out of shot last time didn’t build confidence for the conclusion and I’m genuinely sad to say I was right.
To get things back to some form of status quo Weird Wolf is thrown off his clifftop perch and by complete coincidence the Tomb of Doom appears beneath him, doors open for him to fall into. Then the huge battle of the beasts is discussed by Spooks and (the brilliantly drawn) Thunder Bolt and that’s pretty much it before they disappear through the Tomb too. There are one or two action panels but for all intents and purposes the story is basically concluded with a, “oh well, nothing we can do, let’s go home”.
“Open the coffin and release the dreaded curse of Britannicus that will destroy these British Islands!”Skull
Let’s hope for more than this from our final strip, The Curse and the spooky Victorian setting is still oozing atmosphere thanks to artist Alan Langford, so its conclusion is off to a good start anyway. To speed things along the slightly harder edge Alan’s strips have had has been somewhat lost. Although things do start off excitedly enough with Skull and Burnheart looking likely to succeed in releasing the curse of Britannicus upon the UK.
The wall they came up against last time did indeed unleash a torrent of water, which both the good and bad vehicles barely escape. It’s all ready for an epic confrontation. They’ve been fighting over this ever since Christmas after all, but in the end one panel showing Lionheart and Eagle Eye bopping their evil counterparts is all the battle we’ll get. In the background, Spooks loads the coffin onto the Ghost Finder and Skull just admits defeat. He even tells his cronies to stop fighting and retreat.
But outside, the military have set up a line of defence against all of the Super Naturals. But hang on, weren’t their memories wiped by Eagle Eye back in #7? We’ll just assume it’s a different bunch of soldiers who still witnessed the horrors in previous issues. The church within which Lionheart and his men have been valiantly fighting is levelled, giving Skull a chance to escape in the confusion. The story ends back in Ghostworld where the coffin now resides, unable to be used because no fighting or advantageous actions can be taken there.
Add in a corny 80s cartoon-style ending and it’s all over. Again, it had to be done. Things had to be wrapped up and concluded, what with the comic not merging into any other title and the upcoming Holiday Special was already complete so they couldn’t have continued there either. I wonder if the story had been allowed to continue was there ever the intention to show us the Curse of Britannicus? As it stands, all that mystery and intrigue around the coffin in previous issues was for nought and it now feels more like a McGuffin for all the running about rather than anything substantial.
At least we got to see Alan’s superb depiction of Skull a few more times before we bid adieu. A temporary adieu, what with that Holiday Special still to come (and the delayed Adventure Book). When all of the editions have been reviewed I’ll take a proper look back over the entire series, but as I close over the final issue I have to say I’ll really miss my friendly fortnightly frights. It’s been a very different reading experience to anything else and a great example of a licence taken in an original direction. Quality-wise it really paid off.
For now, The Great News For All Readers is the Holiday Special review will be here from Thursday 26th March 2022.