Category Archives: Comic Reviews

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.

WiLDCAT #7: A COMiC WITH TEETH!

Just. Look. At. That. Cover. I mean, just look at it. David Pugh brings Loner to the cover of Wildcat for the first time in a suitably over-the-top way. The huge Beast he’s currently battling in his strip was a major highlight of the comic’s entire run; its terrifyingly giant mouth and dead eyes have proven unforgettable. It’s also just as exciting to have one of my most fondly remembered characters from any comic finally make the front page.

Inside, just as he did with #6 of Ring Raiders and #6 of Super Naturals, Wildcat’s creator and editor Barrie Tomlinson has decided it’s time to shake the running order up a bit, with the all-female crew and their leader Kitten Magee now the first all-action strip we encounter. Still following Hobos, who is pretending to be their ally while leading them into all sorts of danger in an attempt to kill them, they finally make their way out of the jungle to an apparently safe swamp area. But when have you ever known a swamp to be a safe haven?

This horror goes by the name of a Zicker Beast and with Hobos floating high in the air out of harm’s way is Kitten starting to see through their apparent friend? To be fair, she’s been the only one in the team to distrust him so far. In an attempt to save her teammates, Kitten blasts at the monster and as it swipes at her with its giant claw she puts herself in front of its smaller head, only jumping out of the way at the very last moment. I love artist José Ortiz‘s depiction of the beast’s shock and pain at this point.

The resolution to this episode is even more creative. The smaller head is still alive and attempts to eat Doc as she’s trying to recover blood and tissue samples. Kitten kicks the head out of the way and it begins to bounce down the slope towards the swamp, where it appears to have summoned its body back (which had slipped away in defeat). Grabbing Casandra‘s trademark bazooka she blasts the ground underneath the bouncing head, flinging it into the air and straight into the open mouth of its body, which swallows it whole! Predictable this strip is not, and it’s followed up by the next mini-poster, which is of Kitten’s pet robot Crud, making up for his conspicuous absence in the story.

Still is his usual place is Joe Alien, his colour pages split as always into 3-page and 2-page chunks. He rescues his team member from a watery death by using his extendible arms but soon finds they’re all going to face trial by a court of trees! The crazy old human man who has assumed the role of God of the continent’s vegetation presides over the telepathic trial. Even’s Joe’s men can sense them talking and arguing but are unable to hear them or take part. The vote ends up split and the old man’s casting vote is to let them all leave in peace. It would seem the tale is at an end, until a tragic accident changes everything.

Fascinated by Joe’s external brain pack the man grabs it, snapping it off Joe’s head and turning him into the gibbering buffoon we last saw back in #3. He’s quickly saved by one of his troopers who snatches it back and replaces it onto Joe’s noggin. But in doing so he’s shoved the old man out of the way, who slips and falls down a hill, banging his head on a rock at the bottom. This is where the story stops while we catch up with Loner, but for the sake of the review we’ll jump ahead to the conclusion on the centre pages, which open up to reveal this spread.

I know I bang on about Ron Smith‘s art every fortnight, but can you blame me? Joe’s pages were always surround by a bright pink panel to make them stand out as the only colour ones in the comic, but Ron has added his own border here too. This, combined with the dynamic panels and the strip reading across the spread rather than as individual pages, makes this a stunning work of art in its own right worthy of some blu-tack and a place on the wall!

The story rockets into top gear here. From Joe realising the trees are going to kill them all and using his extending legs to track down their only hope of escape, to that cliffhanger with a superbly drawn, truly painful expression on his face. I mentioned last time how I was interested in the story with the old man and I was looking forward to seeing where it would lead. I’m disappointed he’s died and the story appears to have refocussed again on the basic action plot we had previous to his introduction. But I’ve learned never to second guess this comic. Plus, even if it has reverted to a more action-based story again, Ron’s art makes it a thrill to read.

Over the last few issues the tension has been ramped up to such a degree that this is a genuinely exciting moment

I made reference to Loner‘s placing in the comic. He’s been moved up the running order to Kitten’s previous position in the middle of the comic and it’s time for the climactic battle with the Beast. There are some lovely atmospheric panels here from artist David Pugh which may be small on the page but pack a big punch. Using his telepathic weaponry on it seems to make it retreat at first, slinking into the shadows. But when it spits acid out of one of its tentacles (previewed on the cover) it’s clear that wasn’t the case at all.

When he’s fried upon again the acid takes out his shoulder armour, leaving him vulnerable. One more blast and he’s dead. Over the last few issues the tension has been ramped up to such a degree that this is a genuinely exciting moment. We’ve had glimpses of the creature, we’ve seen the devastation left in its wake, the bodies in its lair and the minions sent out in advance. Now it’s all or nothing for Loner as he takes aim at its chest, small as it is, seeing it as the only potential weak spot when it’s basically all mouth!

He soon realises this could take hours if he was going to try to beat it down bit by bit and the telepathic nature of the weaponry just won’t allow for that. He’s already exhausted, his mental energy completely drained, his brain fried from the exertion of such a powerful weapon even though it’s only making small dents in his enemy. But he notices it’s slowly sliding itself backwards with every blast. The vast cavernous lair has already been established as having cliffs, jagged rocks and huge spikes sticking out of the ground, so it’s time for some lateral thinking from our former mercenary.

As excellent as this ending is, I do have a bit of a problem with it. In my head this beast was a ginormous snake-like being. I was sure a later pin-up showed this but maybe I was wrong? I checked back over previous issues (because I don’t want to skip ahead) and found a panel from #4 I didn’t share at the time. When the Bellari lizard who sent Loner on this quest was describing what must be done we were shown an image of the Beast and I was right, it had been depicted as a snake (below is a photo of a panel from #4), but for some reason in our current issue it’s more of a massive head.

Maybe it was curled up? Perhaps its natural state is as shown in our current issue but it can extend its body out to form a snake-like shape for reasons we haven’t been privy too. Unfortunately it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out. After these scenes Loner is de-evolved back to his original form and given a headband to block telepathic signals from the lizard, who he dispatches in a couple of panels, thus ending the first chapter in his quest on the new planet.

I was a little disappointed the Bellari was dispatched so easily and surprised the story was wrapped already. The furballs wish him well, telling him the headband has attached itself to his brain and can’t be removed, but will translate all alien languages for him. It’s a very handy piece of equipment for the Wildcat crew to have at their disposal, so off he does to explore more and hopefully make his way back to the ship. I’d thought this story lasted for at least the original 12 issues so I’m excited to see what completely new Loner tale will take its place. I have absolutely no recollection so I eagerly await the next issue in a fortnight’s time.

Turbo Jones is the last of our expedition team leaders we catch up with this issue and things are going from bad to worse, which is par for the course on this planet, let’s face it. The story takes an unexpected turn this time, ending with everything turned around and heading off in a different direction. The Arglons send in a team to place a receiver underneath the collar of Turbo’s giant Terrosauron so they can control it remotely. Normally Robo would detect such signals (as has happened previously) but he decides he’s had enough and stays behind as Turbo leads some of the army out to capture the remaining enemy soldiers trapped within the city.

But as they approach the signal is sent out and he loses control of his dinosaur which begins viciously attacking all of the other creatures. The Burroids‘ leader The Brain (that still hasn’t been explained) assumes Turbo has turned on them, that he’s been biding his time until they were at their weakest. Meanwhile, The Ark has commanded Turbo is not to be killed and so the signal is sent for the Terrosauron to stop its attack. Instead, as Turbo climbs back on, it begins to lead him elsewhere through the night.

What I particularly like here is how, even after almost being killed, it’s clear Turbo has some kind of connection with his creature. While he’s not aware of the receiver or The Ark’s plans he somehow just knows that he’s safe again, that this was out of character for the animal and it’s now over. His affectionate “big fella” in the panel above says it all. He clings on, waiting to see where he’s being taken across the great plains. It’s not explained how they get out of the city after the defensive fences were raised last issue (which does appear to be something of an oversight) but they end up in enemy territory.

This creepy image by Vanyo is the last panel and shows The Ark in all of their skeletal glory, complete with a nice close-up of those mechanics inside the jaw we’ve only seen in smaller images before. While the cliffhanger itself is a good one in its own right, this image raises those questions again of whether The Ark and their council are truly alive or if they’re being controlled by someone or something behind the scenes, Wizard of Oz-style. With Turbo now their captive I’m hoping for some answers soon.

It’s a sudden change in direction for the story and I think it works a treat. There’s only so much we can get as an audience from a constant battle but I also like the fact it hasn’t been wrapped up. It’s still ongoing but with an ill-equipped army now on the defensive. An army that now sees Turbo as a deserter. A story that could’ve easily become repetitive and just an excuse for big battles has cleverly twisted itself and has piqued my interest again.

Jesús Redondo returns again to illustrate The Wildcat Complete: A Perfect Crime?, the latest in our anthology thrillers featuring the Wildcat itself. A crew has been assigned to clean the outer hull of moulds and growths before they become a problem to the ship’s integrity. One member of the team, Stefano, has career ambitions that require rather unorthodox means of promotion; kill off his teammates and by default he’ll be the boss. Seeing off his captain on the first page he’s passed over for his colleague Roderick Serling, which is a particularly brilliant name here!

In previous reviews I’ve mentioned how these stories have often felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone and I can only assume that was Barrie’s intention all along, now that they’ve used a very similar name to that of the show’s creator, Rodman (Rod) Serling. Furious that he’s still not captain, Stefano relishes another opportunity when a deserted alien craft drifts into their area of space and both he and Serling are sent to investigate. Upon arrival they discover an oxygen-rich atmosphere but decayed alien bodies. Concluding it’s a relic from a distant alien war, Stefano sees his chance and kills Serling, reporting back to base that a disease killed the crew, not a battle, and that Serling is sick.


“When your body gases start expandin’ you’re bound to… explode!”

Stefano to the body of Serling

Contacting Wildcat every few hours and falsely reporting how Serling is getting worse until he apparently succumbs to the disease, he dumps the body out of the airlock, telling Wildcat Serling didn’t want his wife and children to see his mutated body. He knows exactly what will happen when the body’s gases start expanding in the vacuum of space, as you’ll see below in the first panel of the last page. But this is when everything backfires in Stefano’s so-called perfect crime in a somewhat timely ending when read today.

An eternal quarantine. Forced isolation for the rest of his life. It makes ten days seem somewhat trivial, doesn’t it? Trapped knowing he either has to serve his time out where he is, surrounded by alien corpses, or admit to what he’s done and possibly face execution, we’re left not knowing which option he’ll choose. I think it’s a very worthy strip for Rod’s name.

We finish the issue with a quick look at the next one featuring a dark, foreboding image from what looks like the Kitten Magee story and a bright and cheerful back page strip from one of those lovely retro Weetabix advertisements from the late 80s.

If there’s one word to sum up this issue it would be “surprising”. I mean this in the best possible way, of course. The shifting about of the contents freshened things up, the strips contained twists and turns and new beginnings and Loner’s in particular has me puzzled as to what’s next. I’ll wait, even though a fortnight can feel like a long time when the next issue is sitting on the shelf in front of me all that time. Needless to say, please join me back here in 14 days as I continue rediscovering this childhood favourite.

Issue eight of Wildcat will be reviewed on Friday 28th January 2022.

SUPER NATURALS #6: MONSTROUSLY GOOD ART!

My favourite Super Naturals cover so far wasn’t initially drawn as one. So impressive are Massimo Belardinelli‘s monstrous creations in one of the strips inside that they were used in a montage, with an image of Scary Cat by Sandy James hiding the seams. The black and white images work perfectly with that logo and I can only imagine what could’ve been if Massimo had been given the chance to design and colour a cover of his own!

The images are for the anthology tale not related to the licence and we surprisingly kick things off with the other original story, The Doll. Moving from the middle of the comic to pole position could be a sign of the strip’s popularity and it’s got the shock factor to perfectly kick things off. It’s still Christmas Day and the family game of hide and seek almost ends in tragedy. Uncle Frank is rushed to hospital with the horrible knowledge that the doll (which he believed was somehow responsible for the death of previous foster child Alan) is alive and murderous.

He’s able to whisper this to Simon before he falls into unconsciousness and rushed away. Simon is the only one who knows the truth, apart from his seemingly hypnotised younger brother David of course. Speaking of David, he’s almost party to his older sibling’s murder in this issue. There really is a feeling of the stakes being upped here.

An angry Simon takes to searching the house, determined to finish this. But while looking out a suddenly opened window the doll creeps up from behind and pushes him out from the upper floor of the house. Luckily able to grab a drain pipe, it buckles under his weight while David just watches, his facial expression almost matching that of the doll’s. But when the Marshall’s son Clive enters the room David’s attitude completely changes and he rescues his brother from certain death.

Did he do this himself so as not to get caught? To play along as the innocent bystander? Or did the doll relinquish its spell over him, to keep his hypnotised state a secret for now? Maybe the doll simply ran off before being detected and its grip on David was lost. Intriguing questions and I look forward to answers soon. With the comic coming to an early end just three issues from now, I suppose the only upside to its cancellation is knowing answers will be forthcoming a lot quicker.

The layers are building; Frank’s hospitalisation while now knowing the truth, David’s apparently willingness to see his brother die, the fact the doll is clearly out to kill and not just terrorise. It’s wonderfully paced and Francesc Masi‘s artwork is perfect for a horror story like this, setting an idyllic scene with a horror element right in its centre. It ends with Simon hoking about under his mattress for Alan’s diary and his hand comes across something moving. I remember what comes next from the last time I read these a few years back and it’s probably the most memorable moment from the entire story. You won’t want to miss the next review.

Anthony Williams is the artist for Ghostlings which continues its future tale and the underground-dwelling humans are now officially called Troggers, our ghostly characters foretold as “the great deliverers from beyond”. Convinced both Super Naturals are there to help they won’t listen as Spooks tries to explain. We see Weird Wolf battling one of the Crevice-Crawlers and the strip ends with Web-Winders invading the caverns. The comic really is trying to get as many creepy crawlies into this strip as possible.

The evil Super Naturals have made it all the way to the Cornish coast

The Ghostlings form a truce, knowing it’s their only chance of escape back to the Tomb of Doom but this lasts all of a handful of panels before Weird Wolf takes off, too scared to fight these monsters and leaving Spooks to defend the humans alone, possibly losing his only chance of leaving before there Tomb of Doom disappears again. Despite his comical appearance, Spooks is developing into quite the hero and I really like that. I’m also enjoying the setting, which feels very much like classic Doctor Who‘s depiction of future worlds. I’m sure kids would’ve relished the giant insects, dinosaurs and spiders. As an adult it’s great fun and isn’t that the whole point of a comic?

The comic’s lead strip, Legend of the Super Naturals is now taking up residence in the middle pages and the evil Super Naturals have made it all the way to the Cornish coast in their flying Bat Bopper car. It’s interesting to read about the limits of the powers these characters and their vehicles have, the comic has rules within which it operates and they make for better story choices and drama. Here, the Bopper needs time to recharge its “aerial energy” and the good guys are in an even worse state which I’ll get to soon. But first I wanted to point out some wonderful little parts to this story.

Dave D’Antiquis once again does a superb job of bringing the toys to the page and even though I really liked Alan Landford‘s faceless Burnheart in #4, I think Dave’s more toy-accurate depiction here is also superb. The powerful image makes the fact the Ghostlings undermine his transformation in the same panel all the funnier too. Then Snakebite takes centre stage for what is a quite dark sequence when you really think about it.

He morphs into this reptilian humanoid form to use his hypnotising powers on three huntsmen who have discovered the Bat Bopper. His face in this form reminds me of the aliens in V, which would’ve still been on TV at the time so this may have heightened the thrills for the young readers. But what stands out is the fact he’s hypnotising the three men to take aim at each other and fire their shotguns. Yes, their barrels are empty by this stage but the intent is there for a truly horrific scene, making this probably the darkest moment in this story since #1‘s church scene.

While strong in other ways, the good guys’ Ghost Finder isn’t that great at flying and has to make its trip across the Atlantic Ocean in stages. While it’s not explained here I’m going to assume that means jumping from ship to ship, terrifying the crews along the way for the greater good. Knowing that will take too long Lionheart and Thunderbolt use a little-used power to travel from New Orleans to England instantly, even though this will mean they’ll not only be vastly outnumbered until the rest can catch up, they’ll also be weakened by the transference at the same time.

This is what I meant about restrictions on their powers being better for the story. If they all just had unlimited powers the comic would be nothing more than one repetitive battle after another. I’m not sure if the limitations were outlined in the toy range of if the comic created them, but either way it works. The three licenced strips have been doing a good job of defining these characters enough that I care about what happens to my favourites. These limits add some tension and drama on top.

The issue has another one-page Ghosting Tale of a bully trying to scare some campers with his shadow, only for that shadow to turn into a creature of the night and attack its owner, and there’s another poster by Sandy James in the centre pages. The above contribution to the letters pages caught my eye, not only because Mahmoud is from Northern Ireland where I reside myself, but also his heritage links him to the Ghostling he wanted to write to. As before, the accompanying illustration is by Fleetway stalwart Tom Williams.

The absolute star strip of this issue is the latest Scary Cat Challenge called Nightmare which is based on an idea sent in by reader Trevor Knott of Plymouth. The story revolves around a young boy who ditches school and ends up in the supposedly haunted Bedlington Castle on a tour to kill time. The castle is shrouded in mist and the tour guide is suitably creepy so we know there’s going to be something else going on. The young boy gets bored quickly and decides to wander off, poking about inside the castle’s restricted areas. The tour guide sees all however and soon decides to teach the lad a lesson “better than he would have learned at school today”.


“The boy trembles… shivers… and sits transfixed with fear…”

Nightmare

After making jokes about the tour guide’s looks and sneaking inside one too many private areas, the kid soon finds himself locked in a room full of medieval torture equipment. Thinking he’s not going to get out until the castle opens again the next morning he starts to cry, thinking of the trouble he’ll be in with his parents. It’s at this point, when he’s at his lowest, that he spots a shape taking form in the air around him. A man wearing an old-fashioned actor’s collar tells him he’s going to put on a show as a way of apologising for such an apparently boring tour. This is when artist Massimo Belardinelli unleashes his imagination!

Panel after panel we’re treat to (and the boy is terrified by) more and more horrifying creatures. Each one is an original, highly detailed masterpiece! This carries on for a few pages and there are some truly creepy and, depending on the age of the target reader, scary images here. Those same readers would’ve loved every panel though. They were buying Super Naturals for things like this!

Massimo was an Italian artist whose work I discovered as a kid when he drew the first two chapters of Joe Alien in editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat comic, an original science fiction title published a year after Super Naturals. (You can check out Massimo’s work in the Wildcat reviews.) He’s also known for his work on 2000AD‘s Ace Trucking Co. and Sláine amongst many others, where his highly detailed and highly imaginative alien/mythical art was a hit with readers.

I think the level of detail here is just incredible. The amount of time and effort afforded to this one strip, a one-off in a toy licence comic based on an idea from a reader, must’ve made young Trevor’s year! Any one of these panels could’ve been a splash page but Massimo packs them in on each page instead, and we see the boy becoming more and more terrified with each one. This is the kind of quality we had in our toy licence comics and the licence holders must’ve been thrilled with what Barrie and his team were producing for them.

The story concludes the next day and I have to say, even as an adult, it really shocked me! As the tour guide unlocks the door I was expecting the kid to either run out screaming, having learnt his lesson, or to be a gibbering wreck and ready to apologise for his behaviour. I did not expect him to be dead! To have been scared to death. So much so in fact, he’s become a petrified skeleton overnight, still inside his pristine clothes. What a shame this is somewhat ruined by the panel which immediately follows it.

While we’ll most likely never know for sure, I have a feeling the discovery of the skeleton was where Trevor’s original idea may have ended. The panel with the child turning the television off isn’t in keeping with the rest of the strip at all. Could it have been added so the story didn’t end with the death of a child? It’s quite possible and I’d understand why, of course. Although I would’ve thought Scary Cat‘s appearance would’ve had the same effect.

It doesn’t take too much away from the story though and nothing could take away from the art on display over these six pages! It’s sad to think of work like this being forgotten, that the comic wasn’t successful enough to last longer, to keep on producing strips of this quality and earning itself a reputation for doing so. Today there are those online who still scoff at the idea of licenced comics, who unfortunately will forever miss out on reading and enjoying things like this.

The licenced strips themselves don’t let the side down. As Legend of the Super Naturals continues to lay out the ground rules and develop the background to these characters, the final strip would be set at some later point in their story, gorgeously illustrated by Alan Langford. While he’s now decided to give Skull eyeballs (as opposed to the especially creepy version in his previous serial, Mount of Athos) his work is no less suited to the horror comic genre.

I particularly love how they set the Bat Bopper to work eating its way through the wall, that definitely raised a laugh

In England to uncover the lost tomb of Britannicus, a fictional barbarian sorcerer, last issue the evil Super Naturals explained if Britannicus is freed evil will break loose and rule the world. As this issue’s chapter starts they’re still racing down the Thames in a wonderfully atmospheric opening panel. Last time we had a classic Victorian Christmas as our opener for the festive special, but this time it’s quite the opposite, gloomy scene.

As for our heroes, they’ve become pinned in by locals determined to protect their families from them. To be fair, given the setting the locals are just as scared of the vehicles, so no wonder they’re unable to distinguish between the two sides. There’s a scene of Eagle Eye having to scare the “valiant citizens” away so that they’re not harmed in the pursuit of Skull and his cronies. It goes against everything they stand for but it’s for the greater good and concludes with this brilliant juxtaposition of Christmas Card-like imagery and Tonka truck!

The characters are settling into their different personalities, distinguishing themselves from each other in their actions and not just looks. It took a lot longer than six issues for more successful comics such as Transformers to do this as successfully. They’re also starting to use more of their unique special powers, which you can see below on the final page when we go back down the river and catch up with Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat as they find what they’re looking for thanks to Skull’s x-ray vision.

I particularly love how they set the Bat Bopper to work eating its way through the wall, that definitely raised a laugh, while at the same time it kind of makes sense when you consider the huge row of teeth the front of the possessed truck has! What a fun way to give us half of our cliffhanger. The other half is the final panel at the bottom, where we see the humans have reformed, summoned the military and the Ghost Finder and its passengers are in for a rough ride. We know guns have no effect on the Super Naturals in their humanoid forms so as long as they don’t transform into their animal personas they’ll be fine. Not sure if the same can be said of the Ghost Finder itself though and without their transport all may be lost.

There’s still the mystery around Britannicus and who or what he actually was to solve too, so the next chapter should be particularly interesting.

The Christmas issue still remains my favourite so far. That could be because of my love of the season combined with the festive ghost stories of course, but nonetheless #5 just pips this issue to the top of the list. But I must say there’s a real feeling of confidence about this issue. From the scope of its stories and some truly incredible artwork, to pushing at the boundaries of what a children’s horror comic can publish.

What a shame there are only three regular issues left in the series. However, there are also two big Super Naturals special editions though, the first of which will be reviewed before the final issue, and I’m really looking forward to getting my fangs stuck into that one. Before then are a couple more issues, the next of which will be reviewed on Sunday 23rd January 2022.