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.
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.