Category Archives: Super Naturals

SUPER NATURALS ADVENTURE BOOK: ALL iN THE NAME

Originally due on the blog at the beginning of February, like the Ring Raiders Special this had been loaned to a friend who I don’t get to see too often and I’ve just gotten it back. So here we are, rounding off the Super Naturals read through at last. The Adventure Book went on sale alongside #8 (the penultimate issue) and while it was a strange time of year for a special, it was probably originally aimed at all those potential new Christmas toy owners.

While reference is made to the comic it’s usually in a past tense, looking back at previous issues and stories. There’s no mention of it being on sale or placing an order in newsagents, even the page of readers’ drawings doesn’t include the address to send more in. Sadly, while the original idea may have been to lure new readers in, it appears the writing was already on the wall by the time this went to the printers. But let’s concentrate on the fact we have an extra edition to enjoy.

It certainly feels special as soon as you pick it up. It’s a chunky 68-page book with high quality internal pages and a thin card, very glossy cover with gorgeous painted Ian Kennedy art. Excuse the marks on mine, tracking this down was difficult (I didn’t know it existed until a few years ago) and I even had to hang it outside to get rid of the wet grass smell it had. It must’ve been stored in a garden shed! It’s all good now though so I can read it without gagging.

There’s nothing from The Doll unfortunately, but there is one particularly superb feature

That’s a very full contents list but when you go through the actual book it’s not as packed as it initially seems. There’s only one original Super Naturals strip with the main characters, although there are two new Ghostlings tales and a text story. There’s a lot of reprint though, like the cover and strip from the preview issue, the masks given away previously (printed as basic images now, not masks), a Scream strip, the free card from #1 is reprinted and some of the toy photographs are reused too.

There are some new photos though, as well as a disappointing quiz which amounts to nothing more than drawings of the characters and asking readers to identify them, some new illustrations from readers as mentioned and one particularly superb feature which I’ll get to in a bit. No, there’s nothing from The Doll unfortunately, the terrifying dummy being contained within the fortnightly only, but let’s take a look at the new stories beginning with Destruction Run.

Skull, Burnheart, Snakebite and Weird Wolf break through into our world in the middle of a shopping mall. An earthquake has struck the west coast of America and an aid train is speeding its way there filled with vital medicines and personnel. The comic established the characters never knew where they’d end up but this contradicts that; Skull has a pre-formed plan to destroy the track ahead of the train with the Bat Bopper, causing a devastating crash to kill everyone on board and stop the supplies reaching those in need.

The artwork is more simplistic than we were used to in the fortnightly, in fact Geoff Campion (Lion, Valiant, Battle Picture Weekly) definitely doesn’t bring the level of detail fans of his would be used to. I loved his work in Ring Raiders but here it feels rushed. I do like his background colouring when our characters are in Ghostworld though, his version is a psychedelic nether region that would’ve been impossible in the comic’s black and white strips.

The story is a basic one, which is understandable as it’s really for new readers and doesn’t have the luxury of being multipart, with only a limited amount of pages to get a satisfying conclusion. The evil doers destroy the bridge as the train rumbles across it then somehow Eagle Eye’s ‘Powers of Truth’ create lightning bolts, his electrical charges holding the collapsing iron girders together just long enough. It makes no sense and contradicts Eagle Eye’s powers from the fortnightly, but I’m positive young readers would’ve enjoyed it.

After several pages of toy photographs lifted directly from the comic and the aforementioned reprint of the preview issue (which ended on a cliffhanger, surely frustrating for new readers) we come to the first thing in this special edition that truly excited me as a fan, a look at artist Sandy James’ original concept drawings which he created when the comic was being developed.

A brief introduction explains to the readers how Tonka would’ve supplied basic details about the characters and it was up to Sandy to take the toys and turn them into proper comics characters that other artists could work with. While Sandy never illustrated any of the strips in the comic he did produce some of the fun covers and his artwork made up the free character introduction card reprinted here.

Sandy’s ability to bring those plastic action figures (whose faces were only ever shown in holographic form) to life on the page is pretty incredible. Editor Barrie Tomlinson’s Wildcat comic would do something similar in its Holiday Special, although there artist Ian Kennedy was creating all original characters, not working from tiny toys. I loved Sandy’s bold, colourful work in Ring Raiders where he also brought toys to life in incredible fashion. It’s such a shame he never got to draw a strip for the Super Naturals.

Given his fascination with football and the fact he also edited Roy of the Rovers, Tiger, Hot-Shot etc., it’s pretty clear our text story set inside Wembley Stadium was written by Barrie Tomlinson. Teenager Davey Johnson and his school team are on their way to a match when the windows of their bus suddenly cave in! This is a particular aspect of Super Naturals I liked, the fact any piece of glass could end up suddenly becoming a gateway from Ghostworld, with terrifying skeletal monsters, witches and snakes piling out.

The story conjures up a pretty terrifying image of the windows of a school bus caving in around a load of children, then trapping them inside amongst the shards of glass with the evil Super Naturals. Skull’s plan this time is to destroy the stadium while it’s filled with 75,000 spectators, killing as many as possible and spreading fear through those that survive. What stands out in the story is how we humans know of the existence of the Super Naturals, even who’s who!

While it was only a matter of time until this happened it does seem very quick, the fortnightly was still building their mythology and they were scarier when humans didn’t know what they were. It also contradicts the strips in this very book where police opened fire on the good guys because they didn’t know there were two sides. But that’s just me quibbling. The story is well written and reminds me of the ‘Story So Far’ stories at the beginning of each Transformers Annual which placed a young person into the fantastical world of the characters, painting a picture from the viewpoint of the readers themselves.

Particularly good here are the moments when Barrie takes his time to describe the abilities of the Super Naturals as they attack. Here’s a good example, as evil Ghostling Rags is hit by lightning from Viking Thunder Bolt‘s hammer: “Changing from Egyptian Pharaoh to wrapped Mummy, Rags gave a scream of pain and lurched forward, his dirty bandages flicking this way and that, every length of cloth eager to bind, hold and smother.” Wembley War is the best Super Naturals story here.

There are two Ghostlings stories included, the light-hearted strips in the regular comic that would cut through the children’s horror. It’s nice to see Mr Lucky and See-Thru get starring roles for the first time. Mr Lucky is pitted against Scary Cat, fulfilling the prophecies of a madman who thinks aliens are due to land on Earth, before it becomes a chase across the city, turning each other into ever more ludicrous creatures or objects via their magical spells. Drawn by Keith Page (M.A.S.K., Commando, Thunderbirds The Comic) it’s brilliantly detailed and actually quite funny.

The other strip is drawn by regular Ghostlings artist Anthony Williams and sees the good and evil servants of the Super Naturals arrive during the Great Fire of London. The evil Ghostlings wish to use it to their advantage and it’s up to Spooks and See-Thru to head them off, all the while being careful not to help the humans too much or else they could affect history. Samuel Pepys even pops ups. It’s fun and interesting in equal measure and as the last strip with the licenced characters it rounds things off nicely.


“He hides the body in the box alongside the puppets and simply goes to bed.”

The Punch & Judy Horror Show, James Tumlinson

The regular comic’s anthology series The Scary Cat Challenge, in which readers’ ideas were turned into full comic strips didn’t exactly hold back on the horror. For a kid’s comic it wasn’t afraid to kill off characters in some rather shocking ways, children included, for example in #6 which had the best of the series. Unfortunately we don’t get a reader idea here, instead it’s a Scream reprint from #7 of that legendary but equally short-lived comic of Barrie’s.

Freddie Fresco hates his job as a Punch and Judy performer, often cursing the puppets, kicking them into their box at the end of each day. But one night his manager tells him the show is over, the crowds have dwindled and he’ll no longer pay Freddie to perform. Already on edge with frustration and anger at his everyday existence this news pushes Freddie over the edge and he wallops Sam with a plank of wood, meaning to wound and scare him into changing his mind. But he kills him instead.

He hides the body in the box alongside the puppets and simply goes to bed. He’s taken care of his problem and will dispose of the body the next day. It’s not like he has anybody in his life that could question it. But in the middle of the night he suddenly awakes to find his puppets have attached themselves to his hands and they threaten him, telling him they’ll turn him in for murder unless he takes them back to the booth on the beach.

He tries to remove them but they beat him again and again with the hard wooden clubs es used on them for so long. Eventually he gives in and on the final page we see how the show goes on, day after day, week after week. At the end of the season Freddie doesn’t pack up and leave and when the council arrive to remove his sideshow for him they make a startling discovery.

The story is a great fit for the book, being based around small toys. It’s written by James Tomlinson (credited as James Nicholas), Barrie’s son whose work I enjoyed so much in Ring Raiders the year after Super Naturals that I had a lengthy chat with him about his work on that comic, which you can read here. The artist was Brendan McCarthy whose comics work includes 2000AD, DC’s Solo and Crisis. But it’s Brendan’s TV and film work which really astounds, as he went on to work as a designer on ReBoot and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie (both childhood faves) and was co-writer on Mad Max: Fury Road.

To finish off I’d just like to show you a couple of the toy pages which I think show the quality of the range. One hologram I’ve wanted to see since I started this read through is the inside of the Tomb of Doom but unfortunately every photo so far has had the doors closed. In the first part of The Legend of the Super Naturals back in the preview issue (and reprinted here) we saw a spooky staircase leading into Ghostworld. It was all very atmospheric but what did the toy it was based on look like?

While photographs will never convey the full 3D nature of holograms it’s clear from this just how intricate the original models used to create them must’ve been. I’d love to see photos of the creation process. The holograms in each character model were just as good and the second spread above shows the tomb alongside more from the series. It’s just a shame the Bat Bopper is missing its superb vampiric hologram on its front for whatever reason!

The Punch and Judy Horror Show ended up being a real highlight here, which when you consider it was made for another comic doesn’t seem to bode well for the review, but I think overall the Adventure Book would’ve done a good job introducing new toy owners to the Super Naturals comic (even if it didn’t do so in the end, the next issue on sale was the last!). It doesn’t feel like the surprising children’s horror comic, but then again the clue is in the name ‘Adventure Book’ I guess. It’s still an interesting addition to the series even if it doesn’t live up to what came before.

SUPER NATURALS HOLiDAY SPECiAL: HiSTORiC HORROR

Welcome back to Ghostworld for the very last time. Just a month after the final issue comes Fleetway‘s Super Naturals Holiday Special for 1988, as ever edited by Barrie Tomlinson. Kicking off with a Sandy James cover which would’ve been fun for any kids who received the oversized Tonka trucks for Christmas, here we have 48 glossy pages which, much like the Adventure Book, focus more on the action aspects of the comic rather than the horror.

There are two exceptions, including a reprint from Scream! which checks the horror box for the young readers of Super Naturals unaware of the previous short-lived comic, but other than that it’s all licenced strips and extras. That means there’s no ventriloquist’s Doll or readers’ suggestions for Scary Cat, both of which were highlights of the regular comic so that’s a shame, especially knowing this would be the last publication in the series. But let’s not get too down, the idea of a Holiday Special was to have lots of fun one-off stories to read while off school. Let’s see how the Super Naturals fare with theirs, shall we?

It starts high in the air in SkyJack! The evil Super Naturals flub an attempt to transport themselves into our world, with only Snake Bite able to make it and imaginatively the strip has him crashing through a tiny airplane window, terrifying all the passengers on a transatlantic flight to America. Hypnotising the pilots, he shares his strength with them to save the plane, but only because he wants to use it to crash into Washington which would cause much more destruction in our world.

Snake Bite was always the most interesting of the evil characters and the set up for this story is great. We even have Hooter and Lionheart using the Ghost Finder to nudge the plane up just enough so that it’s trajectory is right for the pilots to take over before Lionheart slashes a hole in the fuselage and throws Snake Bite out, who loses his telepathic control as a result. I like how it’s not an easy, miraculous rescue plan, as Hooter bluntly states. It’s just a shame the artwork doesn’t match the exciting potential of the script.

It’s even more of a shock when you find you who the artist was. It’s Geoff Campion‘s work (Eagle, Lion, Valiant) which I’d personally adored in Ring Raiders, another of Barrie’s titles. However, here things feel somewhat rushed, even unfinished in places, such as when the Ghost Finder crew makes their entrance the buildings in the background look like rough layouts. As the story goes on more details are lost and backgrounds become even more sparse, almost like it was hastily finished for a deadline. It’s not the usual exemplary work we’ve come to expect from Geoff and I’m intrigued as to why, but unfortunately that’s a question lost to the mists of time. It’s still a fun story to open with, a really enjoyable complete tale perfect for a Holiday Special.

To make a special even more so, there are always a few extras. Inside we have new pin ups of the toys, some of the marvellous posters from the fortnightly have been shrunk down to A4 size, a one-page Ghostling Tale features a thief making his getaway only to board the Titanic and there’s a pretty poor quiz. Much like the one in the Adventure Book it’s just a series of strip panels and the questions are all a variation of “Who is in this picture?”. We do get some lovely reader art in Ghostworld Gallery including a superb rendering of Skull by David Round who was clearly a fan of Alan Langford‘s depiction of the character.

There’s also a page called Incident at Rock Canyon which looks suspiciously an unused cover. Drawn by Sandy James it clearly hadn’t reached the colouring stage yet when the comic was cancelled. To accompany it is a short story by way of explanation, reminding me of the inner front page to the Ring Raiders special printed after that favourite comic of mine also abruptly ceased. It’s a nice addition and always interesting to see work that was still in progress for future issues.

Next up is a Scary Cat Challenge story. The anthology story isn’t based on a reader’s idea like some of the very best in the regular series, instead it’s a reprint from Scream! #9. Part of the Library of Death series in the comic, Ghost Town was written by Fred Baker (Roy of the Rovers, Lion, New Eagle) and illustrated by Mike Dorey (Action, Warlord, 2000AD). An old Western town in America witnesses the arrival of its first automobile, which promptly has a brake failure and ploughs straight into a dynamite storage (of course it does), blowing it and the whole town up in a huge chain reaction of explosions. That’s just the beginning.

In the then-present day of the 80s two young lads pull up to a gas station in the desert and ask for directions, but there’s more to the little old man who helps them than they realise. They soon find themselves in an old fashioned town instead of back on the highway and are greeted by the sheriff. The only problem is he’s a waking, talking skeleton! Telling the boys they’re going to stand in a fair trial for murder, soon a whole town full of dead bodies with other ideas are chasing them down.

Cornered in the sheriff’s office with his guns, the young men have no choice but to try to shoot their way out and get back to their car, but they’re no match for one of the local gunslingers. Seeing the two innocent guys gunned down was quite the shock when I turned the page! I know it was created for a different comic but to see it in the pages of Super Naturals it makes quite the impact. I never owned this edition as a kid but if I had (and not knowing this was a reprint) I know I would’ve loved this story because of this horrific final page.

The next strip is the definite highlight of the whole comic, even though it only comes in at four pages. I believe the artist for The Making of Evil could be Keith Page though this is unconfirmed. The middle couple of pages are your typical tale of Skull and Burnheart causing terror and destruction as they set fire to a small Austrian town at the end of the nineteenth century. They’re defeated by Lionheart and Thunderbolt but our main focus is the young boy the evil Super Naturals crash in on at the beginning of the their story.

The strip doesn’t explicitly tell us his name but instead treats the young readers with the intelligence to either know straight away who this is, or to piece it together by the end. I was still in primary school when this was released so I wouldn’t have been taught anything about World War II at this point, but some slightly older readers may have, and even if they hadn’t a rereading in a year or two would’ve brought a fresh, terrifying perspective.

The boy’s reaction to Skull inspires the evil leader to bestow upon him unlimited power to score against those he hates, but even Skull can only hope the boy will spread some form of fear after they’re recaptured; he has no idea of what he’s actually created. For now we see the boy carry on with their work, helping spread the fire and blocking the streets from help. In the final issue’s review I said how it would’ve been great to see the Super Naturals interact with more myths from our past like they did with the Lady of the Lake, but to see a real-world evil inspired by Skull is something I didn’t expect! It’s a brave move by the comic and an inspired story that once again shows the potential of the franchise.

I also adore that awesome Tomb of Doom looming over the characters as they disappear back into Ghostworld, and I wish it had been depicted as such throughout the whole series. Then, after that somewhat creepy tale comes a bit of comic relief in the shape of Ghostlings, this time focussing on Hooter and Scary Cat and as ever it’s drawn by Anthony Williams. The slight plot sees the witch trying to wreck a bit of havoc by having lions escape a zoo close to a town.

Hooter tries to stop her by using his magical sleeping potion but he’s quite a clumsy wizard is our Hooter and he drops it in a mid-air kerfuffle between the pair. But luck is on his side and instead of Scary Cat being put to sleep the animals end up having a doze instead. But when Scary Cat transforms back to her witch form, their hard landing sees her join them in the land of nod. Our hero is then easily able to carry her back to the Tomb. Silly stuff, but then again the best Ghostlings strips always were, that was the whole point of them.

Racetrack Riot is the special’s prose story and follows F1 driver Alan Dixon as he test drives a new super powered engine, which of course Skull wants for his Bat Bopper truck. Alan and his team are kidnapped and forced to remove the engine from their car, however outside Lionheart, Thunderbolt and Hooter (who is making up for being underused in the regular comic by the looks of it) are watching closely. It’s our clumsy wizard who comes up with the plan and after transforming into his owl form he swoops in from the skylight on which they’re perched and seemingly attacks the F1 team.

There’s method in his madness of course. It looks like a regular owl, possibly nesting somewhere nearby, has flown in. So the evil characters simply ignore him while at the same time in this form he doesn’t inadvertently scare the humans into freezing in fright for once! Instead, they dive into the maintenance pit under the car for cover. This allows the main Super Naturals to launch an attack and duke it out without fear of harming anyone. It’s inconsequential stuff but entertainingly written by Barrie Tomlinson. Unfortunately though, we’re not sure who the artist was.

The final story in the comic and for any of these characters is Tooth and Claw and I believe it could be drawn by Keith Page. I’ve checked with some sources and parts of this (in particular the Super Naturals themselves) seem to be in his style but the jury is out for how the wild animals are drawn. So it could be Keith. Anyway, the story is set in an unnamed country suffering from a drought, its inhabitants hungry and the animals dying. Through a sacred temple emerge Skull, Snakebite and the underused Rags (as someone interested in Ancient Egypt I wish they’d used him more, he’s a Pharaoh who can turn into a cursed mummy) in the Bat Bopper and Lionheart, Eagle Eye and Mr. Lucky in the Ghost Finder.

As they give chase the good guys are surprised to see the villages have been left untouched by their evil counterparts, until they come face to face with a wild stampede. Hypnotised by Snake Eyes, the animals have either been forced into a frenzy to chase down and eat the human flesh of the nearby villagers, or into a made rage to stomp all over their homes and kill them underfoot in the case of the elephants. But the plan hasn’t reckoned on one simple thing, namely Lionheart’s third and final form.

It’s surprising to think the character hasn’t been placed into this kind of environment before now. It’s the kind of story which could’ve been developed into a serial to delve deeper into his mind, especially if he befriended other lions. After all, he was given this lion form by Specter for a reason, could he have found a kindred spirit in them? But then again, the comic was still in its infancy when it was cancelled, so who knows what could’ve happened. I have to say though, it’s fun to see him take to this form with relish, acting like an actual wild lion and fighting off the hypnotised, innocent animals (without killing them). Only a few characters got the chance for any kind of development by the end and unfortunately Lionheart wasn’t one of them. This is like a teaser for what could’ve been.

Before we sign off from the last ever edition of this comic there’s just time for a quick plug for some of Fleetway‘s range which may have appealed to he target audience. Battle had merged with the new Eagle after a phenomenal run, Roy of the Rovers was still going strong and another of their licenced comics, Mask had proved a lot more popular, lasting 80 issues and it was certainly a hit with some of my friends. These could be described as the Barrie Tomlinson range, as he edited all of these titles too.

A reprint of a Skull poster with the top and bottom chopped off to fit the inside back cover followed by the title logo on the rear round things off and that’s it. In an edition which contained a lot more fun and action-orientated strips, the horror stories of the Scream reprint and the Hitler tale really stand out. So does the action-packed Lionheart ending, if only to show what could’ve been and as a great example of the licence.

Never again would the young readers see these fun characters and the horror comics that came along with them for the ride. While there seems to be very little left to tell as memories seem vague when it comes to Super Naturals, keep an eye on the blog for some possible extra content in the future nonetheless. It’s sad to see the comic end and it will remain a treasured part of my collection, taking pride of place on the Barrie Tomlinson Trilogy Shelf. I hope I’ve been able to do my bit in helping keep the memory of this classic alive.

(Please note the Super Naturals Adventure Book review is yet to come, more information here.)

SUPER NATURALS #9: FiNAL FRiGHTS

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 didn’t understand why it was finishing so soon. I just assumed comics kept on going.

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 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 Adventure Book was on the shelves for anyone who hadn’t bought it yet. 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.