Category Archives: Super Naturals

SUPER NATURALS #3: ACTiON, HORROR, LAUGHS!

One thing that’s very apparent with this particular issue of Super Naturals is how each artist has a very different way of interpreting the characters. In fact, artist Sandy James even changes his Skull from the rotting flesh colour of the cover to a bright green for the poster (the same as the hologram on the toy). The cover itself is more simplistic this time with the main focus being the competition inside.

The logo is also bigger, making an even bolder statement on the newsagent shelves than before. First up inside is the next chapter of The Legend of the Super Naturals and time to introduce two new toys into the fray, the Tonka trucks the Bat Bopper and Ghost Finder. These possessed vehicles were great looking additions to the range and I’m happy to say they make quite the entrance here, drawn by Dave D’Antiquis.

With facial features like these I imagine they’ve been bestowed with some form of spirit, although how this was achieved in the real world and without Ghostworld’s overlord Specter isn’t explained. Controlled by Ghostlings Vamp-Pa and Spooks they battle it out and in the process destroy half a city block when they blow up a tanker truck. 

I think it’s safe to say this strip has now fully committed to going down the action route rather than the creepy horror-tinged story we got as the opening chapter when it was drawn by John Gillatt. Perhaps the action genre better suited Dave’s style, and in no way am I disappointed to be clear. So surely all this destruction can’t go unnoticed in our world?  As a matter of fact no, it doesn’t.

This final page brings a sudden maturity to the strip which was a surprise.  Seeing real world (as it were) military people and their full response makes this far-fetched tale suddenly feel grounded in reality and in turn brings a whole other level of drama to the proceedings. The fact this small band of Super Naturals are about to face the full force of all this military might seems like overkill, but as humans we really didn’t know what we were up against.

These generals, despite brushing aside as absurd the theory that’s actually closest to the truth, have concluded this is the appropriate, balanced response. If that’s the case then we’re in for one hell of a fight next issue. It may have moved away from horror but this has been a blast and the sudden change in tone has me very excited for the next instalment.

The Ghostlings strip drawn by Anthony Williams continues to bring the laughs like it did last time. There are a couple of genuine giggles here too, for example Scary Cat falls off a high beam above the stage and Vamp-Pa turns into his bat form to save her. But she doesn’t want nor need saved, as she can simply transform into her cat persona to land on her feet. As cats do. In the end the two of them are so busy bickering they plummet right through the stage below!

With some fun banter again whoever wrote this strip seems to have been having a ball with the possibilities of these characters and I hope one day I can properly identify and credit them. It all comes to a satisfying end with both sets of Ghostlings returning to Ghostworld, eager to do battle but once again stuck in the one place they’re forbidden to do so. However, Spooks isn’t done yet and on the next page shows off the first contributions from readers.

They don’t disappoint. My favourite is the one in the Big Battles box where David Phethean has just written in to tell Spooks what toys he has and that he’s trying to save up for some Ghostlings. The fact he’s going to receive five pounds from the comic that could buy him one of the toys is really rather heartwarming.

After the action and humour so far it’s time to get back to some classic children’s horror stories.

There’s a funny non-answer to the question of why the Ghostlings all have four arms, and with hindsight a comment in Spooks’ introduction about “sold out signs appearing in paper shops, referring to Super Naturals comic” almost reads like a jinx. It reminds me of the prediction in the Ring Raiders preview comic of readers needing to place an order because it was about to become the biggest selling comic in the shops. When both of these comics were starting out everything was pointing towards these franchises taking off as the Next Big Things.

After the action and humour of the issue so far it’s time to get back to what we were promised and some classic children’s horror stories. First up is The Doll, another strip I wish I knew the writer of, to see who was responsible for this masterpiece. When the strip began we thought young David Wickham would be the star when he found the creepy ventriloquist’s doll in his new foster home, but interestingly it’s older brother Simon who appears to be the lead. The chapter begins with a visit to the hospital to visit their single father, the whole reason they’ve been placed into temporary foster care.

Poor cat! David’s blasé response to the shocking death of the family pet is completely out of character. Even though we only really saw his true self in a few pages of #1, he was written well enough for us to recognise something is clearly wrong here, even without the explanation from Simon. As the story progresses Simon keeps tabs on his younger brother and at one point in the day is searching for him in the garden when he notices the garden shed is open. Assuming David is inside he starts to poke about.

We may not know the writer but we certainly know the artist. Francesc Masi is once again quite the master of horror. His use of shadows, quick movements and silhouettes is fantastic, building a feeling of suspense as Simon catches little glimpses of things out of the corner of his eye, or outside his bedroom window late at night. At one point his uncle sneaks up behind him with a small toy action figure to scare him, but it’s drawn in such a way the reader thinks it’s the doll (who we’d seen in the shadows with a weapon ready to pounce).

It’s perfectly clear here the doll is out to kill Simon, which for a kid’s comic based on a toy franchise was shocking. In a good way of course. It’s no wonder this strip was talked about in the school playground so much. Simon finds the diary of the previous foster child, Alan and it’s full of hatred towards his guardians, a world away from the kid described previously. Clearly something changed him.

Picture the scene of young children reading this comic in bed late at night by lamp light. That’s how I did it with my first two issues back in 1987. We wanted to be frightened by this comic and The Doll was a guaranteed scare. I may now be an adult but if a (much) younger comics fan was to read this now I doubt it would have lost any of its edge.


“The Death Mask of M’Tali! No-one must wear that! I promised!”

Dudley Carrington OBE

The next strip is a bit lighter by comparison but the Scary Cat Challenge anthology series is definitely beginning to step up a gear. Simon’s Mask is all about Simon Purcell, a lonely schoolboy with no real friends, a quiet lad largely ignored by his peers. Invited to a costume party he sees a chance to stand out from the crowd, to make an unforgettable impression and hopefully find some friends to boot. He visits his uncle Dudley Carrington OBE, a former world explorer and his collection of masks from every corner of the globe.

The one Simon wants to borrow, the Death Mask of M’Tali is grotesque and he is forbidden from taking it. No explanation is given other than his uncle promised someone, so he is adamant it’s not to be touched. Simon tricks him into believing he’s taking a different one but the Death Mask is hidden under his shirt. On the night of the party he frightens all those around him and he’s loving every minute of it.

The whole idea of the party was that no one was to reveal their identity until a certain point in the proceedings, after the prize giving for best costume. As he frightens people they congratulate him on giving them a scare and on his apparently homemade mask. He’s sure he’s going to surprise them even more when he reveals himself. Everything is going exactly as planned. That is, until the moment comes for him to unmask.

I had predicted by this stage the mask simply wouldn’t come off, however in a neat twist it does but underneath it Simon’s own face has been transformed. He rushes to the nearest telephone to contact his uncle for help, only to be told by the butler that he’s died. Seeing the Death Mask had been taken by Simon terrified him so much he had a sudden fatal heart attack. The realisation that he’s never going to return to his normal self hits Simon and we’re left with this final panel below.

Simon screams as he appears to fade into the shadows and the story fades to black. It’s a great wee complete tale, a quick but interesting set up, a slow build and a twist at the end for the well-meaning kid who lied and stole from his uncle. It’s quite ‘Twilight Zone‘ and is the best of the series so far, but still tame compared to what the young readers themselves would send in! You’ll have to keep coming back for the rest of the reviews to see what I mean.

On to that competition that was hyped on the front cover, with 50 Super Naturals action figures of either Lionheart or Skull to give away. What’s a little strange is the fact the back page competition run by Tonka themselves is in every single issue, so we were already getting lots of chances to win these. In fact, the competition on the back page this time is for a Tomb of Doom playset with lots of action figures as runner-up prizes, which is an even bigger haul than here. But this one was organised by Fleetway themselves, so it got front page coverage.

Alan Langford‘s Skull is a much more horror-inspired interpretation in the continuing saga of Mount of Athos. Having stolen the sacred casket it looks like his plan to spread a little chaos and evil is about to come to fruition, until Eagle Eye literally swoops in to save the day.

It all builds up to another battle between these giant forces of supernatural energy and the clashes feel suitably epic. We get to see many of their special powers in use, such as Burnheart‘s flames where his entire body inside his armour turns to fire which he projects all around him. There’s an air of Judge Fire from the Judge Dredd comic strips with him. Snakebite tries to use his hypnotising eyes but Lionheart is able to project this right back at him using the mystical jewel hanging from his neck.

There may be less in the way of frights this issue in the Super Naturals stories themselves but the large scale battles are perfectly presented in Mount of Athos, complementing the lighter but no less action-packed vehicular destruction in the first strip. Athos culminates in a one-on-one between the two leaders and brothers, and it’s no exaggeration (for me anyway) to say this feels like a clash of the titans on an Optimus Prime/Megatron scale and this is only three issues in!

The comic may only be three issues in and this may have been the first I didn’t buy when I was a kid, but it’s my favourite so far. It’s perfectly balanced between the action, the horror and the comedy. Usually we’d be celebrating if a comic was able to achieve a good level of enjoyment in one of these genres, but for Barrie and his team to give us all three has been a delightful surprise. As I’ve been writing these reviews, blog readers have been commenting on social media about their memories of Super Naturals and how wonderful it was. It gladdens my heart to know I’m not alone in my high praise for the work put into this comic.

Just to finish off, here’s a look at a large advertisement that graced an eye-catching double-page spread inside this issue. I can remember my friend having the ZX Spectrum +2 with the cassette deck and going to his house to play it for hours at a time. It would be four years later when I’d finally replace my brother’s hand-me-down Atari computer with my own Commodore 64, but this advert takes me right back. For younger readers of the blog I’m sure this all looks so quaint!

As I finish off this review I look around my living room and the Christmas tree is blinking away (my office upstairs where I usually write also has its own little desktop tree) as my very favourite thing in the world is getting closer. Getting to relive this classic comic again over Christmas is going to be so enjoyable; there’s just something wonderful about reading ghost stories around the festive season. Especially when they’re as good as these.

The next issue’s review will be up on the blog on Sunday 12th December.

SUPER NATURALS #2: NOT iN THE DUSTBiN!

I’ve really been looking forward to this after enjoying the premiere issue so much. A licenced comic which came across with that first issue as a spiritual successor to Scream!, Super Naturals had a great start but can that momentum be maintained and even built upon? We kick off with another Sandy James cover which is as colourful as that memorable logo and I initially thought it contained a glaring mistake, but it was I who made the error.

The evil Ghostlings are the star of this front page and in the background we can see their human forms as they lift the cover and reveal the horrors they transform into. Except for Scary Cat, whose hissing cat and witch forms seem to be the wrong way around. But inside, during one of the stories she calls her cat persona her “true form”. While it’s not elaborated on, could it be she was a stray cat who wondered into the Tomb of Doom? It’s an interesting idea. She was the only toy I owned at the time but I can’t remember what it said about her background on the packaging.

The issue opens straight into the second part of The Legend of the Super Naturals and unfortunately it appears John Gillatt has already moved on.  Perhaps as a high profile artist he was brought in for the first chapter to either draw readers in or to define the tone and style. Something similar would happen two years later in editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat, when Ian Kennedy drew the preview issue and the first chapter to the Turbo Jones strip but then handed it over to Vanyo from #2 onwards. In the case of Super Naturals they’re now in the capable hands of Dave D’Antiquis (2000AD, Eagle and co-creator of Brigand Doom).

There’s no rush to get everyone properly introduced, so it doesn’t feel forced and I like this approach.

While John brought a horror comic feel to the origin story, especially in his depiction of Skull and his cronies, Dave’s is more of a traditional adventure strip. The story is action-packed but I do miss the more horrific interpretations of the characters. The story basically continues the fight from last time, playing out over four of the five pages and it’s highly entertaining, right down to their medieval-style speech patterns. These may feel forced to some but they make perfect sense when you take their origin story into account.

Fighting it out amongst modern 80s technology Skull and Lionheart are impressed with the vehicles and the story ends with them entering separate junk businesses to build their chariots. More on these later. The Legend of the Super Naturals would run for the length of the comic and perhaps the original idea was for it be an ongoing tale of the first months after the characters first entered our world; a way to introduce new toys and features into the stories. We’ll unfortunately never know. I like how it’s taking its time in setting up the world within which our comic will tell its tales. There’s no rush to get everyone properly introduced, to get every single toy front and centre, so it doesn’t feel forced and I like this approach so far.

While the first issue was very much a children’s horror comic with the more light-hearted Ghostlings strip in the middle, this time we’ve started with more of an adventure feel before the comedy, so with only its second issue the comic feels very different. In the Anthony Williams strip the evil Ghostlings bicker and fight about the best way to cause mayhem at a punk band concert while Spooks, See-Thru, Hooter and Mr. Lucky take centre stage in a completely different era. Accidentally travelling through a different Ghostworld exit they came out in the time of Henry VIII.  Right in front of him as a matter of fact.

There are plenty of jokes and sight gags, as well as funny banter between the characters. It really does give the impression they’ve known each other for a very long time before we the readers came along. What was interesting is how it’s forbidden for the good Ghostlings to frighten a human, so when they find themselves trapped Mr Lucky turns into his giant bunny form and burrows their way out of trouble instead of simply scaring the humans away. Enjoyable silliness but now it’s finally time to get back to some frights.

It’s time to return to the foster home where brothers Simon and David Wickham are spending their first night. With his little brother sound asleep, Simon worries about earlier events and the anger he saw in David’s face over a toy. He begins to hear creaking and shuffling noises and The Doll leaps at him in the dark! But he jolts upright and realises it was just a dream. Or at least he thinks it was, it was so real. Thirsty, he heads downstairs, unaware his brother isn’t asleep at all. The panel showing this is really rather creepy. Oh I love this strip!

It’s such a shame we don’t yet know who wrote it, because whoever did clearly worked incredibly well with artist Francesc Masi to create a truly unnerving atmosphere for the young readers. We knew the doll was alive, knew it was probably in the house but we didn’t know if Simon really saw it and we certainly didn’t know where or when it could pop up next. Looking out the window Simon sees the dustbin and breathes a sign of relief, unaware of what happened at the end of the last chapter, and as he enters the kitchen in the dark we young readers were checking every inch of the panels.

The caption here echoes that of the one when David opened his eyes. The two events are linked. Reading this now I can clearly remember this issue from 1987. Well, this strip anyway and the feeling of what I now know was suspense, but which at the time was a new experience for me.

We get a little light relief when Aunt Louise comes downstairs thinking Simon was looking for a midnight snack. It’s a tender moment between the foster parent and the teenager on their first night living together, while it also teases us with hints about the past and their previous foster child Alan, who also had a fascination with the ventriloquist dummy. For a children’s comic it’s certainly doing its best to tell a story like a classic 80s horror movie.

After Louise leaves the cat startles Simon when she enters through the cat flap. She begins to hiss, apparently at him, before running back outside again. Cats normally like Simon and there’s nothing else there that could’ve scared it. Confused, he heads to bed, unaware of the shadowy presence watching his every move from the cupboard behind him, which the cat obviously sensed.


“But it isn’t in the dustbin!”

The Doll

We don’t actually see the doll until the final panel of the five pages, but we somehow feel it throughout. It’s compelling even 34 years later. Even though I wouldn’t buy the next issue as a kid (something else must’ve grabbed my fickle attention) I can remember reading this instalment in bed late at night with only my bedside lamp on and the feeling it produced. The pacing is perfect and it suits being read one chapter at a time much more than binge-reading it, which for me would ruin that pacing and suspense if rushed through. It was designed to be read this way after all.

What an experience it was and for the life of me I don’t understand why I didn’t have a regular order. I was only allowed a certain amount of comics but at this early stage of my comics reading I only had two reserved (OiNK and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends). Perhaps that’s all I was allowed at the time, later I could have up to four at once. Whatever the reason, I missed out on all but the final issue. Remembering how this creeped me out I regret not experiencing the rest of it as part of the target audience.

Sandy James brings heroic leader Lionheart to life for a centre page poster and it’s classic Sandy. I especially like how the faces of the lion on the shield, Super Naturals form and complete lion form all have similar characteristics. They’re not just generic lion faces, you can tell they’re the same character.

Next up is another complete story in this issue’s Scary Cat Challenge.  It’s still too early for any reader suggestions due to deadlines so another unknown writer takes the helm, as does an unknown artist. I’m making it my mission to find out more about the making of this comic but information (even from those that worked on it) is hard to come by. It really does seem to be a forgotten comic in every way, which is heartbreaking. But for now these two creators, whoever they may have been, bring us Spider.

It’s a rather basic tale of an unlikeable guy bullying his younger step-brother and then getting his comeuppance. Darren Benson sees young Clive as unmanly by his own so-called standards because he doesn’t like sport, relaxes in hot baths and helps people. From the very start we know Darren is the bad guy here. He buys a toy spider to scare Clive while a spate of deadly spider attacks are reported on the news. We know where this is headed.

The final two pages are above and I will admit the furry arachnid in the final frames is superbly drawn, highly realistic and for anyone with a fear of spiders I’m sure it would’ve made their skin crawl. It’s just a shame it’s all rather predictable and seems to end just as it gets interesting. It’s a six-page story and really could’ve used those pages to get to this stage quicker, using the remaining space to really terrify Darren and maybe have his step-brother save him or, to really scare the young readers, maybe he would’ve have. When you see what happens to some of the kids in later stories you’ll understand how this wouldn’t have been too much for this comic!

Mount of Athos is once again our final strip and I’m so glad Alan Langford hasn’t been replaced by another artist. He brings a truly epic scope to this Super Naturals tale. They feel bigger than life, which suits them perfectly of course since they’re not alive and even the toys were huge compared to their contemporaries. In Alan’s hand their other forms can be truly horrific (see Snakebite in #1 for the perfect example) and their battles Earth-shaking. The opening page looks superb but then you turn it over and this image of Skull just grabs you! I mean come on, look at him!

Skeletor never looked that good! A truly terrifying leader and a world away from the depiction in the first strip this issue. I particularly like Alan’s choice of not giving Skull eyeballs, deviating from the toy and the original comic designs by Sandy James. While the version of him in The Legend of the Super Naturals is a crazed skeleton bent on conquering via endless battling, in Mount of Athos he’s a calculating, cunning foe and has a genuinely frightening presence.

This takes place an unspecified time after the origin story so perhaps this is the character he was to evolve into, but I think it’s more likely the unknown writer and Alan simply decided on a more serious villain for their story. It certainly raises the stakes. This is also when Scary Cat reveals the hissing cat is her true form as I mentioned earlier. The evil Ghostlings finally show their fangs here too, proving they’re more than comic relief and both Eagle Eye and Skull get to show off their supernatural powers. Athos and The Doll are worth the price of admission on their own. Both are compelling reads.

Time to wrap things up for now.

On page 31 there’s a quick preview of the next issue which focuses on those so-called chariots the two sides are determined to build in their respective junk yards. The Ghost Finder and the Bat-Bopper were the two big Tonka Trucks available that Christmas and readers had already been able to check out photographs of them in the preview issue. They looked great so I’m looking forward to their inclusion in the action story next time.

Below that you’ll see the instructions for the free Lionheart mask and I can remember they actually came with little elastic bands for our ears. Funny the things classic comics dig up from our ageing memories, isn’t it? On the back page is the third Tonka competition and it’s a chance for readers to design their own Super Naturals. I’m a bit disappointed Tonka assume they’ll all be male though, but unfortunately this was par for the course back then. (What about Scary Cat?)

Just to finish, when I mentioned “the price of admission” it got me thinking about that price of 40p. It’s easy to dismiss it now, but in 1987 that placed it a little above most similar comics. Marvel‘s Transformers was 30p at the same time, albeit it on smaller paper, with 24 pages instead of 32 and less original material was needed. OiNK itself was a good bit more expensive than Fleetway‘s (publisher of Super Naturals) other humour comics due to its glossy paper and being an independently created comic yet it was 35p. Even MASK, also a licenced comic by the same publisher was 35p in November 1987. Could the price have put some parents off buying it? At the end of the day the toys weren’t a success anyway so it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Nothing will put me off returning in two week’s time for issue three so join me back here on Sunday 28th November 2021 for more chills, thrills, action and laughs from the comic that had it all.

SUPER NATURALS: BLOCKBUSTER ADVERT

When I was building up to OiNK‘s own read through I wrote about how IPC Magazines promoted its release in new ways compared to previous comics. These included a four-page ‘Blockbuster Advert’. Rather than a regular advertisement these actually added four pages to those comics and acted as a large pull-out promo which could be enjoyed separately, just one week after the preview issue had also been given away. By 1987 Fleetway had taken over IPC’s comics and decided to employ this tactic for Barrie Tomlinson‘s Super Naturals tie-in.

So, one week after the free preview comic and on the same day as the premiere issue went on sale (Hallowe’en 1987) came the Super Naturals’ own Blockbuster Ad. At the same bigger-than-A4 size of the comic itself it surely must’ve made an impact when Sandy JamesSkull fell out of readers’ regular comics. Unfortunately just like the preview issue this wasn’t given away with OiNK so I didn’t discover it until decades later. The exact range of comics that included this is unknown but I think it’s a given the likes of Eagle and the licenced Mask would have.

So it was included in the issues released on 31st October, the perfect day for some added spookiness to tempt new readers over. Inside, the layout shows off all the main highlights of the issue that was in stores that very day, including that bloody doll as drawn by Francesc Masi. (I mean this endearingly because I loved being scared by that thing.) A few of the toy characters are shown in their new comic form and there’s a preview of three of the strips, perfectly highlighting the creepy artwork to be found in this very different publication. I must admit though, I’m not entirely sure what the “Be Patient” is all about.

The back page highlights the free gift and the physical details of the comic. I always did love the way Fleetway would draw pages behind the cover, something they did with adverts for their annuals. It gives the impression of a thick, meaty read and that was no word of a lie with Super Naturals!

Back on Hallowe’en 1987 I discovered the comic by accident in the shop, but if this had fallen out of one of my OiNK’s I’d have been right back down to the newsagent straight away anyway!

There was definitely a big promotional push behind Super Naturals both in terms of the toys and the comic.  It was all set to be a hit for Tonka and Fleetway, but alas it was not to be.  But let’s not get hung up on that, Instead let’s enjoy the journey through all the regular issues and specials to come, with the review of #2 coming on Sunday 14th November 2021.