Tag Archives: Barrie Tomlinson

WiLDCAT #11: NET YOURSELF SOME ACTiON

Kitten Magee makes the cover of the penultimate issue of editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s superb creation, Wildcat. Kitten’s regular artist José Ortiz brings the style he used for #9‘s pin up to the front page, complete with very strategically placed controls on that front hover machine! I hadn’t realised some of Hobos’ people were naked floating about in the story until I saw this. Not something I expected to see on a cover of Wildcat, but that’s this comic to a T, it’s always surprising me! This issue is no different.

Kitten starts us off inside on page two and it’s a very exciting strip this issue. There’s a lot of action happening and it varies so much throughout its five pages it stays fresh. All-in-all it’s a great action sequence with Kitten finally going up against Hobos and his followers. It’s felt like the story has been building towards this for a long time now and I haven’t been left disappointed in the slightest.

There’s one particular aspect of this chapter which really took me by surprise, I’m sure you can guess what it was from the panels above! So when Kitten and her team were dumped into the city’s ponds, ready to be electrocuted to death by the floating fat men and their cattle prod-like devices, the fish they’d been torturing for sport rise up in support and start killing them. Not only that, but it appears they can talk, or at the very least scream” Kill!” as they do so.

This happens thanks to Kitten firing back with her wrist lasers, something overlooked when they were disarmed last time. This causes one of the men to fall off his hover pad and another to fly in low to attack Kitten, forgetting to stay at a certain height above the water. Kitten grabs his hovering platform and climbs aboard to fight back at long last, and soon a huge battle is raging over the skies of the Hoboan city. I love the fact there are dozens of these men, over-sure of themselves after countless years of lording it over everyone else, their privilege and lifestyle obvious on their bodies, and they’re all being taken out by one woman.

It feels like a very modern strip, and most likely one which certain dark, dank corners of the internet would criticise these days because one heroic woman is fighting off dozens of evil men. I think it’s great we were getting this kind of storytelling as kids, we were exactly the right age to take on the subtext without realising. OiNK definitely helped form my sense of humour as a child, it’s not unbelievable that comics such as Wildcat helped shape other parts of my character too.

In the end, Kitten goes up against Hobos himself but as leader he’s been afforded the luxury of a force shield. Now surrounded, with no escape, he instructs his men to fire their Sleep Rays, leading her to collapse on her hover pad for the cliffhanger. While I understand he can now use Kitten as a hostage to capture the rest of the team, it seems out of character for him to spare her. We’ve seen electric rods, death rays and even a Shatter Gun this issue (freezes and shatters upon impact), but he decides to send Kitten to sleep when he finally has her in his grasp? Our final Wildcat chapter should be interesting.

The trees have sent troops down on a suicide mission to poison the gigantic slugs

Joe Alien is up next and after the shocking conclusion last time (pun very much intended), time flashes forward a couple of hours and he and his team slowly start to come around. Forcing Joe to the ground, one of his men cleans his brain pack and reattaches it. Joe tries to explain to the slug creatures (the Dargonlites, as they psychically introduced themselves as last time) but they stop him and tell him they already know why it happened, they’re “not unintelligent beings”, correcting an assumption made just because of their looks and slow nature, again a good lesson for the kids reading (and for adults). Suddenly some tree roots begin to break in above their heads and the slugs attack. It seems like a stupid decision by the vegetation, until we get to our middle pages.

As I have (very happily) become accustomed to as of late, the second half of Joe’s strip in the middle pages (separate to the first three pages) is a beautiful double-page spread in which artist Ron Smith takes full advantage of the layout. The trees have sent troops down on a suicide mission to poison the gigantic slugs (there’s my pull quote right there!) and one by one they die off, leaving Joe and his team vulnerable to attack, which is certainly what happens in that last panel. It looks like all-out war is approaching fast. It’s another winning entry in the series and, mainly thanks to Ron’s art, another hugely exciting strip for this issue.

I felt genuinely sad to see the “slurp creatures” die. Even though they’ve only been in the strip for a couple of issues I loved their design and the playfulness with which they first appeared. We were just about to find out more about them when they were attacked too. Their leader was beginning to open a dialogue with Joe and find out why the humans were landing on the planet. I don’t think they’ll be back, but that’s the nature of Wildcat, you can’t get too attached to things. You just don’t know where these stories will go next. With one more chapter to go, and knowing there’d be a wait before Joe would appear in the pages of Eagle (which Wildcat merged into), I hope we’re in for a great climax next time, or at least a temporary one.

So on to Loner who easily escapes last issue’s cliffhanger by simply jumping out of the huge mouth he found himself in. Much more interesting is the strange creature he was riding on the back of in the previous ‘Next Issue’ promo. He’d even given it a name and so I thought we were about to head off an a big adventure with the mercenary atop Dobbin. But one page later a fire inexplicably breaks out in the forest (of course it does) and naturally a stampede of all the animals takes place, Loner and Dobbin likely to get trampled on, so his new friend pushes him off and buries his way underground to safely, never to be seen again.

I’ll admit, when the fire broke out I kind of rolled my eyes because it was just the latest in a long run of seemingly random dangerous events that by this stage were getting comical and rather ridiculous. Yes, I realise Loner has been shrunk to the size of an ant on an alien planet by a large blob, but I can live with that, it’s an alien planet after all. I was excited by the prospect originally, but by now it’s quite clear there’s no real aim for the character or plot since this happened. Quite possibly very exciting for twelve-year-old me but now it’s just not gripping me any more.

Things end with Loner climbing a tree and grabbing hold of a bird’s foot as it takes off, trying to fly away to safety. But it shakes Loner off and he’s plummeting back down again as the story ends for another fortnight.

Before I move on though, let’s just take a moment to once again admire the saving grace of this strip, the always gorgeous artwork of David Pugh‘s. Loner himself is still a great character too, his inner thoughts and outbursts are often funny and he hasn’t lost any of his edge from his first story. If the comic had continued perhaps this would’ve been a fun intermediate period for the kids between two proper stories, but as it stands this makes up half of Turbo’s run in Wildcat and just can’t reach the heights of those first issues.

But what gorgeous art this is!

It plays like a cross between Babylon 5 and a Marvin the Martian Looney Tunes cartoon

On the letters page Kitten’s pet robot Crud is asked by reader Hilary Thompson what planet he was made on. The response is brilliant and here it is in its entirety: “Deep in the 5th planetary system of the Outer Glorky galaxy, there’s a little planetoid called Nomond-X. On the island south of the main land mass in the Northern hemisphere of that planetoid, there’s a river. At the exact centre of that river, near a mighty waterfall, is a little workman’s hut. It was nowhere near there.” It begins by having the reader think there are some great background details to even the smallest of characters, then the “workman’s hut” had me laughing at the silliness of it, but then that final line floored me! Classic 80s UK comic letter answering.

In Turbo Jones‘ strip we get our first space battle in the Wildcat comic and it’s exciting for the kids while also including some great visual humour. The robotic crew sent to destroy the Wildcat turn to take on Turbo and Robo and somehow from within the infrastructure of their tiny shuttle out pops a gigantic claw and a net! It’s ridiculous of course and I love it. You can’t say it’s unoriginal, that’s for sure. Artist Vanyo brings this scene to life and when the Wildcat joins in it plays like a cross between Babylon 5 and a Marvin the Martian Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s hugely enjoyable.

The Wildcat may only have a brief cameo but it’s nice to see those weapons on the huge human lifeboat finally get some use. The crew on board are completely unaware of who is in the shuttles and initially don’t know what they should do. Only when Turbo destroys the claw, sending the shuttle it was attached to into an uncontrollable spiral towards Wildcat do they intervene to save themselves from a collision. The radiation around the planet is still interfering with radio communications, even in orbit, so Turbo has no choice but to return to the planet.

I could feel Turbo’s frustration here. He was so close to reestablishing contact with the Wildcat after so long away. He could’ve updated them on their findings so far, explained why comms were down and perhaps those on board could’ve found a way around it, he could even have taken more troops back down. Between having none of the correct fuel and, probably more importantly, the fear of being shot down by his own people he has no choice but to return to the planet. They decide to return to their allies the Burroids, but upon touching down we get a rerun of the events in #1. Captured by the same aliens who now believe he’d defected, they tell him he’ll be standing trial for his life.

Layer upon layer keeps being added to this story. From landing and being captured, then befriending those aliens, helping them fight an enemy, being captured by said enemy, having to take to space to save humanity, then back to being captured by the original friendly race of aliens and standing trial for being a traitor. Turbo doesn’t have the best luck in the world, but he’s definitely come a long way since that first issue when he was an abrupt individual and deliberately one-dimensional. He was in charge of the future of an entire species after all, so he was deadly serious and prone to assuming the worst as a defence mechanism, thinking the first aliens he met were a threat. But he’s softened, he’s learned and he’s grown on me too. He’s a great character and I found myself empathising with his plight this issue.

‘Great News For All Readers’

The Wildcat Complete this issue doesn’t have a story name and we kick things off in the Wildcat Robot Research and Technology Centre where some of the older robot helpers are told they’re being replaced by more up-to-date models and nano-tech. The robots summoned before the professor breaking the bad news are all lovingly designed retro-styles by Jesús Redondo with each baring a passing resemblance to certain sci-fi characters such as Darth Vader (called Mek), C3PO or even a Cyclon from Battlestar Galactica, but each altered so as not to be obvious. It’s a nice nod and perhaps also shows how Wildcat was pushing itself as a really futuristic story compared to these older franchises. It did raise a chuckle.

The small group of robots decide on an uprising and systematically go about taking their revenge out on those humans who have been treating them badly, or who use robots for their own entertainment or financial gain. A man who beats his robot gets beaten to death, a foreman known for slave-driving his robots is forced to try carrying the heavy loads he forces upon them himself and is squished flat, and two men who run illegal for-profit Robo-fights are pushed into the ring and made to fight to the death. It’s a grim tale at times and perfect for the Wildcat Complete.

It’s a clear analogy for the class system and it’s unfortunate (but refreshingly realistic in a children’s sci-fi comic) that this far into the future we still face the same problems we do today; it’s not some Star Trek-like utopia. I think this reads even better today as a result. There’s still room for humour amongst the gruesome moments, such as the ever-so-politely-programmed robots apologising to each other as they’re forced to fight, but even then the humour just highlights what’s wrong here. As such, it’s a strip that can produce conflicting responses from the reader and I think that’s the whole point. The robots have been treated so badly we root for them, but their actions are played like a horror story.

After murdering four people they head back to the professor and destroy his equipment for making the new robots, before they themselves are destroyed by security. Just before its shattered body stops for good, the Vader-esque robot uses its last little bit of power to say they succeeded, the Wildcat doesn’t have the equipment to replace the other robots still on the ship. The human leaders find themselves in a predicament that isn’t immediately solvable but they do unveil a statue of Mek in the robots’ rest area, to smooth over human-robot relations.

While it has some comical robots, funny nods to the era’s sci-fi and an overall feeling of fun, just like the best Wildcat Completes there’s a dark streak running through the strip. It’s probably more in-your-face here than normal, but perhaps that’s down to the fact I’m a lot older and it’s symbolism is clear to me now. Let’s also not forget that Wildcat Death Toll either. With four more people now added to it our total is 36 at the end of our penultimate issue. As for the fact that this is indeed the penultimate edition, there’s the usual ‘Great News For All Readers’ message on the Next Issue page.

I certainly didn’t find the news special when #12 landed on my lap back then! To round off the issue is an advertisement for the NatWest bank with a central message which is unfortunately just as relevant today as it was in 1989. Finally, the pin up returns to the back cover and it’s Turbo’s deputies Wok and Glune of the Burroids who sign off the comic for two weeks.

The final regular issue of Wildcat will be reviewed in a fortnight and you can read it from Friday 25th March 2022.

WiLDCAT #10: MAGNETiC MADNESS

This review was due on 25th February, click here to find out about the delay. More catch-ups to come this week.

It is with a lump in my throat that I picked up this latest issue of editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s superlative Wildcat comic from 1989. My initial reaction was thinking it was great to have an Ian Kennedy cover again to kick off proceedings, only to be reminded how just very recently we lost the great man himself. A giant in the comics industry, his artwork always astounded me as a kid and no less so now. His work features on many covers on the blog in the Ring Raiders, Super Naturals and of course Wildcat series.

Barrie brought Ian on to design the Wildcat craft and the characters who would lead humanity down to the surface of the planet, and the Wildcat Holiday Special would show some of his original designs. Released on 27th May 1989 you can look out for that review (which will definitely include Ian’s designs) on that date this year, and check out his gorgeous full-colour, hand-painted introductory strip for the Ring Raiders Mini-Comic given away free with Eagle.

A talent who worked right up to the end, Ian was 89 when he passed and will be missed by a legion of fans across the world. You can read an obituary for Ian on Rebellion‘s Treasury of British Comics website here.

Ian drew the very first episode of Turbo Jones but ever since #2 he’s been in the more than capable hands of Vanyo, and after some darker episodes we’re back into the realm of far-out dinosaur and spacecraft action. But not before Barrie writes in one more shocking scene, in which the Burroids being sacrificed to the Arglons‘ god are given a chance to escape. But only six of them. Swooping down on Robo‘s new pal, Turbo obviously wants to save who he can, but we end up with desperate soldiers clambering for position, some falling back to their inevitable death.

It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen in war films or even on the news

It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen in war films or even on the news, so to see it in a children’s comic is all the more shocking, which makes for excellent reading and shows how Wildcat never talked down to us kids. It threw surprising scenes like this at us and we lapped them up. Advertised at the time as a comic for the younger siblings of 2000AD readers, it’s no wonder in the years since I’ve read of people discovering Wildcat and wishing the “younger” label hadn’t put them off at the time.

Commandeering a shuttle craft to take after the one allegedly on the way to hijack the Wildcat, Turbo and Robo find themselves back in space when they discover the real intentions of the Arglons. It’s actually a robotic crew sent on a suicide mission to blow up the entire spacecraft and end humanity! But with the robots confused over whether to defend themselves against Turbo or attack the Wildcat first, we’re left wondering who’ll make the first move.

With the stakes being raised so high it feels like we’re on our way towards a climax for this first adventure of Turbo’s, but I don’t remember it coming to a conclusion by the time of the comic’s cancellation. So maybe for any other comic this could be the beginning of a grand finale, but for Barrie it was just another episode!

Joe Alien is still stuck down the slimy hole leading to the home of the giant slug creatures that saved him and his men from the killer vegetation. (There’s a sentence!) Fortunately, Joe’s original assessment of these slugs being friendly appears to have been correct. These Dargonlites, so superbly designed and drawn by Ron Smith are vegetarian enemies of the plants and in a funny moment they tell Joe all the slime was produced to break their fall, and they thought the humans would find it pleasing!

Joe’s brain pack has been placed securely back on to his head but it appears some of the slime got in. This makes it malfunction and he starts to go crazy again, extended limbs flailing everywhere, even bopping the slugs on their heads as if he’s playing a giant, slimy piano. His legs spring him into the air and he ends up in one of their mouths, much to the surprise and disgust of the alien slug, producing this funny panel below on the left.

This doesn’t exactly build bonds and as you can see the cliffhanger is even more shocking than Turbo’s. Affronted at Joe’s indiscretions one of the slugs pushes a long, thorny sting out of its rear end and electrifies the slime, sending our team into twists of agonising pain. For the life of me I don’t know why I can’t remember more of this strip because it’s just so much fun.

These being the only colour pages helps of course, with Ron’s art and colour palette leaping off the page. His designs and a real kinetic energy make Joe’s pages (split over two different sections of the comic) hugely exciting and it seems every single chapter is introducing brand new elements and twists to what was already a highly original (and way out there) story. It’s absolutely perfect children’s sci-fi and I’m not ashamed to say at 44 years-of-age it’s making me feel like a kid all over again. I love it!

Kitten Magee and her team finally make it to Hoboan City, despite Hobos‘ various attempts at offing them over the last few issues. Placed aboard floating transports they’re flown over the metropolis while he boasts about his people’s accomplishments. Only when they enter a great council chamber and he formally announces his entrance with, “I, Hobos the Murderous, return” to the other members does the penny finally drop all the way for the humans.

A magnet on the ceiling relieves them of their weapons and when their transports flip to toss them down a trap door below, Kitten’s robotic pet Crud ends up flying off in the opposite direction. I have to say I’ve really enjoyed the comical moments for Crud in recent issues. They’re never overdone and at all other times he’s been a real help to the team and a proper character in his own right, so these moments are genuinely funny when they happen.

All pretence is gone and as the team are flung out into the open air they’re captured in giant nets and shown the Hoboan version of fishing, where electrical shocks are used to torture the aquatic life in their city’s pools. The cliffhanger has the women being tossed towards the water and their ultimate fate. I have to say I’m glad to see the story leave the jungle after a few monster-of-the-week episodes, although I’ll admit last issue’s was a highlight of the whole story so far. Hopefully we can start finding out more about the history of Hobos’ people and this part of the planet, but if not it all makes for some daft fun anyway!

On the Wildcat Time-Warp Data Link pages (letters pages to you and me) the answer to this reader’s question stood out. When asked about possible character profiles in future issues the answer mentions the Holiday Special and an Annual. Unfortunately, the twelfth issue would be the last before the comic merged into Eagle but it’s interesting to know even at this stage the fate of the comic may not have been known. The Annual didn’t materialise of course, but a Winter Special did, the contents of which I always thought was intended to be in an Annual originally. Perhaps this was the case.

On to our shrunken Loner now and while David Pugh‘s art is always the highlight of an issue, again I feel the story doesn’t really know where it’s going. In this chapter Loner has been attacked by an alien creature that’s clinging to his face, but before he can shoot it with Babe another creature attacks his arm. He’s able to free himself using a rock, hitting the creatures with it and they just pop open, no blood or guts visible. This asks questions, obviously. Then a larger version appears, leaps on one of the smaller ones and begins to eat it, then another larger one appears and does the same to that one… like a vicious family of cannibalistic Russian dolls.

I’m intrigued by these creatures. Their designs are wonderful, they’re somehow hollow and this apparently never-ending cycle fascinates me, but just like the wonderful spider and ants they’re forgotten about when Loner makes his escape. He then spots the floating blob that shrunk him to this size in the first place, but before he can get to it a horse-like alien is taking a drink from the river and doesn’t spot the tiny man who ends up in its mouth, about to be swallowed. Maybe as a child I loved the endless stream of dangers he faced as he tried to return to normal, but now I’m craving more story.

As you can see with those creatures the action is imaginative and exciting but over the course of the first seven issues we had all this plus a proper plot for Loner to sink his teeth into. Now instead it’s like he’s just stumbling from one danger to another, which is all the more frustrating when some of those dangers have real potential to be a main story element. Maybe I’m being harsh, after all it was aimed for a much younger me who may have loved it just as much as the earlier stories, but I can’t help but feel the comic has spoiled me up to this point, and proven time and again it can produce dynamic, interesting and deep stories to match David’s incredible artwork, leaving the current story feeling somewhat lacking.

The complete tale this issue simply gets ‘The Wildcat Complete‘ as its banner but at the top of every page artist Joan Boix has written “Earth 2” so that’s the actual title. This correlates with the front cover, which would have us believe a planet called Earth 2 has killer robots on it. (Quick note: This was six years before the short-lived TV series of the same name.) But the planet the landing parties are exploring is called Targon-5 (not actually named in the strips, it was named as part of the free gift with #1 and mentioned in its Next Issue promo), so what’s this all about? Colour me intrigued.

It kicks off with more Space Madness infecting humans aboard the ship, something which has been a problem since #2. Aboard a cramped tin can in deep space, unable to leave and far from their home (which blew up!), some people’s minds just can’t cope and they go loopy. Here we have someone jettison themselves out an airlock where their body explodes in the vacuum, and the equivalent of space fire fighters called the ‘Emergency Squad’ start emergencies! But Doctor Jedd Gruber thinks he has a solution, a vast holographic simulation of life back on our long lost planet.

Soon, across the whole ship people are being given tokens to allow them two hours a week inside the simulation and at first it appears to be working. Reports come in that people’s madness is being properly managed, some have recovered completely and many sane people are visiting it as a preventative measure. But of course this is the Wildcat Complete story so we know it all has to go horribly wrong.

Two individuals hold up the doctor at gunpoint and destroy his robotic assistant, demanding to be let into ‘Earth 2’ (as it’s become known due to how realistic it is) and to have the doors locked after them. The doctor tries to explain none of it is real and asks what they’re going to eat, but consumed with Space Madness they’ve become addicted to Earth 2. They call the doctor stupid (“blitz-brain”); they’re going to eat the berries on the beautiful bushes and fruits from the trees! Fearing for his life the doc has no option but to close them in. Looking on from outside he summons the security droids.

I love those last words, how it was so realistic it ended up going the same way as the actual planet. It’s definitely one of the better anthology tales (they’ve all been very good) and Joan’s art is a superb fit, their depiction of the space madness is just perfect. This is one of the most interesting aspects of this series of stories. While they’re all individual, there are some themes that pop up now and again, with this sickness being the most prevalent and one which I’m sure would’ve played a huge part in the ongoing saga of the Wildcat if the comic had carried on.

Would the spiralling death toll have been referenced in later issues?

The ending reminded me I’ve been remiss with my Wildcat Death Toll of late. In the Christmas issue not one person died (suitably enough) and since then I haven’t picked the count back up again. So, with three dead in this story alone, and all six human characters killed off in last issue’s Complete, where do we stand? Going back and adding up all the deaths from all strips, in all issues, with only several hundred humans left alive in the universe editor Barrie and his team have seen off 32 already! (Plus the wonderful Gliz alien character.)

Would the spiralling death toll have been referenced in later issues? Who knows. But for now I close another superb issue and with only two regular ones to go I await with bated breath what’s in store for the remainder of humanity. Our penultimate fortnightly review will be on the blog from Friday 11th March 2020. Just before we finish here though, as I turned the final page (after the Next Issue promo below) I was transported right back to 1989 with this Weetabix advert. I remember collecting those very cars. Even though there was nothing particularly different about them from the other toys I had, the fact you had to collect tokens and send away for them made them feel exotic and rare! Did you remember these?

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 (see here) 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 delayed Adventure Book). When all of the editions have been reviewed I’ll take a proper look back over the entire series, but 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.