I’ve never really been into Hallowe’en and could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve really celebrated it. The first time I did anything remotely tied to the season was in 1987 when I sat down on the evening of Saturday 31st October with this Sandy James cover, wearing a mask of a rotting face and read the comic it had come with. That comic was the first issue of Super Naturals from Fleetway and surely its release date was the perfect bit of marketing in itself!
I ended up only buying the second issue before being distracted by something else (easily and often done back then) and I’ve gone into more depth on how my fascination with these returned too late in the introductory post. Right here, right now, I’m ready to read this complete series in real time and enjoy every page along the way I’m sure. As mentioned last time the first story is a reprint of the preview comic’s origin story. Of course, I didn’t originally know this and I’ve a vivid memory of pouring over this particular page from editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s The Legend of the Super Naturals for a long time.
I think it was because of the panel on the top-right. John Gillatt‘s depiction of terrified church goers, fleeing their place of sanctity on the same night I was reading the comic was a powerful image to someone who was only approaching their tenth birthday in a couple of months. The way their faces are cloaked in shadows makes their eyes almost blank with fear, the fact the comic chose a church of all places to have these supernatural entities explode into our world, the date giving it an immediacy when read; these all combined into something that seared itself into my memory.
This is coming from someone whose Reminders app on his iPhone is always full nowadays because he has a head like a sieve, so the fact this memory has stuck with me should say a lot. I won’t go into detail on the story here because I’ve covered it already in the preview issue’s review, but I felt I had to hold back on describing reading this page until now. This was how I first read it so it seemed more fitting for this review. After that heart-pounding beginning it was on to something a lot lighter.
Moving into more comedic territory, Ghostlings was very appropriately illustrated by Anthony Williams (Sinister Dexter, The VCs, Batman) who I knew from the ghostly goings on of an equally comedic variety in The Real Ghostbusters. So who were the Ghostlings? These little helper spirits were Spooks, who in a previous life had been a court jester and can now switch between that form and a traditional ghost, Mr. Lucky the magician who could transform into a giant rabbit, Hooter the wise old wizard whose spells were hit and miss had an owl form and See-Thru, who was a take on The Invisible Man and whose holographic toy could lose its bandages.
The evil Super Naturals had their own Ghostlings. Scary Cat the witch could change into a hissing cat (although I assume in the comic she wouldn’t be constantly hissing), Rags was an Egyptian Pharaoh and mummy, Weird-Wolf was a very 80s villain in his punk teen and teen wolf variations and finally Vamp-Pa wasn’t a fatherly old gentleman bloodsucker, he was a vicious vampire and a bat, obviously. In their own story they want to be seen as more than assistants assigned by Specter, who we actually see take form which I don’t remember happening.
Weird-Wolf decides to crash into our world at a rock concert to cause a bit of havoc. It’s not exactly a grand evil scheme, but that’s the whole point of these characters, they wish to play with the bigger kids and impress them by causing a little chaos and showing their potential. It’s a fun set up but as Spooks and his pals give chase the doorway inside Ghostworld changes randomly and they end up in a setting more befitting his previous life, in the court of Henry VIII! Well, I didn’t see that coming. A fun, light-hearted strip to ease the tension for the young readers, giving them a false sense of security before the next story.
The Doll appears to be the most memorable of all the strips in the comic if social media responses are anything to go by, and it’ll soon become clear why. David Wickham and his older brother Simon move in with a temporary foster family after their dad’s accident, their mum having died when they were very young. They’re soon settling in and making friends and it’s all so idyllic to begin with. Illustrated by Francesc Masi (Jackie, Warlord, Bonanza) like a traditional, wholesome comic story it puts the reader at ease. A classic bit of misdirection.
David soon finds an old ventriloquist’s dummy hidden away in the back of a closet and immediately takes a shine to it. Simon just thinks it’s ugly. He’s more concerned with his baby brother playing with what he considers a girl’s doll. David wants to show off his discovery of what he thinks is just a forgotten toy and goes to ask Frank and Louise if he can play with it. Frank’s reaction is one of outright anger and he snaps the doll out of David’s hands. Louise tries to explain that it belonged to a previous foster child who had an accident while under their care, and the doll just brought back painful memories. When the kids are in bed though, Frank tells Louise he doesn’t understand how it was still in the house, he thought he’d gotten rid of it years ago, and he throws it in the bin outside.
David isn’t happy one bit. He gets angry when talking about it in bed with his brother, a side to him that Simon has never seen before. He doesn’t understand why his brother is acting this way just because of a doll he found only moments before. Of course, we know by now it’s not just a doll. Aside from the title page, when you look closely at some panels of the strip you can see the doll giving a little side-eye here and there. It’s subtle but it’s clear it’s not being done by the person holding it.
The strip ends with a noise outside as the bin lid clatters onto the ground. Thinking it’s just cats digging about the trash again, Frank goes to have a look. While he’s on his way we get that lovely creepy image above of a hand slowly rising up under its own power. Two staring eyes lear over the rim and this is where the story ends for now. I think it’s worth mentioning this was a year before Child’s Play hit cinemas.
Kids love being scared by their chosen entertainment. Whether it’s Doctor Who, Hallowe’en games or storybooks etc. Tabloids try to rile parents up with fake outrage about such things but kids love this sort of thing. It’s a safe scare. The Doctor will arrive and she’ll save the day for example. Or we’d know it was just our friends jumping out at us from the dark. Or we could always put down the book, but we never did. The Doll did frighten me back then but I lapped it up. I’d never known a comic could do that and the strip was a hot topic amongst friends at school, copies being passed back and forth with those children whose parents didn’t allow them to read it.
Just to clear up some online misinformation, some people think The Doll was written for another comic aimed at older kids and was simply printed here to fill space. This is rather insulting to the team behind the comic. Just because it’s a toy licence it can’t possibly be scary? The fact The Doll did scare us shows these people are wrong. Francesc Masi even drew the cover to the final issue and inside that edition the story was given a proper conclusion. This was written for Super Naturals and is another reason why this comic deserves more attention and recognition.
Sandy James returns for the double-page poster above, showcasing The Tomb of Doom, the gateway to Ghostworld and he does a superb job of turning the plastic toy into a creepy monstrosity. We then move on to The Scary Cat Challenge. Hosted by the Ghostling, she’d ask readers to send in their ideas for a scary story and, if chosen, the team would turn that idea into a fully fledged comic strip. There was even a tenner for each one used! That was big bucks to us back then. But the real thrill must surely have been seeing your idea brought to life on the page.
Of course the first few stories couldn’t be based on these yet so instead the comic’s writers (as yet unknown to me) came up with some of their own. In The Hunchback of Hinkley Rest a typical teenage game of Dare goes horribly wrong when Ian agrees to spend a night in the local cemetery and accidentally wakes someone up. That someone is the late Cornelius Grudge, a gentle, lonely hunchback who just wants to make friends, but who was bullied by children when he was alive because of his looks. He never gave up on people though and here he comes out to keep Ian company.
Despite opening up to the boy, Ian and his friends do exactly the same thing as people had done throughout Cornelius’ life. They fear him because of his looks, they think he’s a monster and call the police in, who in turn instantly think he’s a criminal or monster of some kind, all based on how they perceive him with their eyes. In the end he’s forced to return to his grave, the police thinking he’s run off, leaving only Ian to know the truth. It’s actually a sad tale in the end, if rather simplistic. But the downbeat ending adds another layer to the comic and the atmosphere is thick, thanks to artist Jim Watson (Scream, Commando, Battle Action Force).
We’re back into Super Naturals territory with a two-page introduction to all the characters which builds upon the card given away with the preview issue. Sandy James is once again on hand and his character models add so much personality to the toys, really bringing those little green holograms to life. In fact it was Sandy who designed the comic’s take on the toys, a process we’d be let in on in a future special feature.
It’s these characters we return to for the final strip of the issue in part one of Mount of Athos. While at this stage readers would be unaware of how long each of the individual stories were to last, the opening page of this gives the impression of a real epic. I just love the grand scale of Lionheart and Skull in battle. The scenario for these characters is such a huge idea, it really is capable of having scope and this page sums it up perfectly for me. There’s such potential within this comic.
In reality, Athos would last a handful of issues before another Super Naturals tale would begin in its place, but that epic feel remains. This is testament to the art of Alan Langford (Eagle, Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000AD), who brings a mature feel to this toy licence tale. The story involves the Monastery of Athos and the Sacred Coffer relic which contains the remains of Saint Servius, known as The Essence of Perfection. As a symbol of all that is good it’s the perfect target for Skull and his group.
All the players are here and more of their abilities are shown off in the heat of battle. Best of all we see Snakebite transform himself into his giant snake form. Snakebite does this to terrify the monks into revealing the location of the coffer in order to save their own lives. I think this image is incredible. This is the kind of horror-action our imaginations would’ve been full of when playing with the toys, but we’d never have been able to imagine it brought to life as such.
For fans of the toys everything they could possibly wish for is here in #1 of Super Naturals. All the characters are introduced, their abilities have been established, toy likenesses elaborated on and more importantly they’re well developed for a first issue. For young fans of children’s horror comics the licenced strips offer spooky adventures (alongside some comedy) and the extra content brings an anthology feel and the promise of real chills to come. It really is the best of both worlds.
It’s a great start. I really hope this read through can bring some overdue attention to this forgotten comic, it’s a truly unique title and deserves a place in the history of UK comics alongside Scream! For now we close off issue one with another competition on the back page from Tonka. This time the two vehicles are up for grabs but strangely aren’t shown.
Next week on Sunday 7th November 2021 I’ll take a look at the four-page Blockbuster Advert found in some of Fleetway‘s other comics as part of the marketing for Super Naturals, followed closely on the 14th with #2’s review. With all three of editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s comics now being read side-by-side, this could be a great winter on the blog!