Tag Archives: Francesc Masi

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.

SUPER NATURALS #8: ESCALATING ECTOPLASM

The Ghostlings strip makes the cover of the latest Super Naturals as Spooks faces up against the monsters of Earth in the far future. Anthony Williams is the cover artist for the first time and it may not look like it but the story itself remains the lighter, more comedic of the comic inside. It’s also the first cover to directly relate to a chapter of a strip. Previously they’ve been general images of characters or scenarios to lure readers in, and #6 was a collage of panels from the Scary Cat story. I can understand why early issues of a new comic, especially a licenced one, would have more generalised covers so maybe this one was a sign of things to come.

Although things weren’t to come. We’ll get to that a little further down the review but first up let’s get stuck into the continuing Legend of the Super Naturals which has technically been ongoing since #1, although it did sort of start a new story within itself in #6 when they made their way to the Cornish coast. As Skull and his team get ever closer to the location of Excalibur, the good Super Naturals are split in two, beginning with leader Lionheart and Thunderbolt making quite the entrance.

Accidentally scaring some local farmers away, the weakened heroes hop aboard their abandoned tractor to give very slow pursuit in a small moment of comic relief. The next page on from this takes us across the breadth of the entire story, beginning with the tractor pootling along before we catch up with those upon the Bat-Bopper. I wonder if these acts of violence towards Skull’s own underlings would’ve developed into a plot point further down the line. While the good guys see their Ghostlings as helpers, it’s clear their counterparts view them as slaves, there only to do their bidding.

They come across a local village and just for the sake of spreading fear they tear it apart with flames and missiles, basically for their own amusement. We also catch up with the team on the Ghost Finder who have stopped off on another small rock outcrop in the middle of the ocean to let their vehicle recharge itself, just like I assumed they would’ve had to do. I’m glad to see this wasn’t overlooked for the sake of expediency.

Eagle Eye senses some unknown mineral beneath the surface and a quick missile blast later Hooter is getting to work with his little-used alchemy abilities to turn it into a useable fuel. Once on their way for the final part of their journey Eagle Eye says he’ll fly solo alongside them. But really, he just wants to use his own powers of instant transference (which the others used to their detriment last time) and doesn’t want to be talked out of it. As Spooks wishes “Feathers” well the cliffhanger has us back at the destroyed village, Lionheart and Thunder Bolt looking on, desperate to help but unsure how they won’t just make it worse!

There’s certainly a lot happening this issue. However, none of it is rushed and it’s become the best of the licenced strips by far, with multiple points of view all playing out independently from each other. It feels like a much meatier read than five pages would normally contain and in fact I had to go back and check there weren’t any extra pages added to the tale. The writer (most likely editor Barrie Tomlinson) has an expert hand on these characters now and having Sandy James as the artist is the perfect choice. After all, he developed the comic versions of the toys in the first place. I’m looking forward to seeing how all these elements come together for a surprise finale.

The Ghostlings strip is beginning to feel like it’s running out of steam story-wise, but artist Anthony Williams certainly seems to be having a blast. His designs for the dinosaur-like Surface-Stampers and the giant insects the Crevice-Crawlers are great fun, as is his interpretation of Eagle Eye who makes a surprise appearance here, big heroic chin and all! Back in Ghost World, the all-knowing being Specter may not care about sides, but it would appear he can be coaxed (or tricked) into giving away a location and the door to get there.

Weird Wolf is quite angry none of his own teammates came to rescue him so he turns into his animal form and howls, summoning the beasts above, which in turn attracts the Crawlers who see the stampede as dinner on the go. It’s all rather inconsequential after the interesting story we’ve been treated to so far and unfortunately the ending is worse. It’s just annoying. It happens off to the side, with Spooks simply describing what’s happening.

This feels like a cheat to shoehorn in a cliffhanger. Without showing the apparent danger it feels cheap, like a lazy last-minute way to attempt a dramatic ending without putting any of the effort into writing or drawing it. It’s such a shame because it’s been a good story until now, and Anthony’s art was saving this episode somewhat until this. I do wish Anthony had been enlisted to draw a full Super Naturals strip though, I’d loved to have seen his versions of the other main characters.

After not actually showing himself in last issue’s chapter (but having his presence very much felt) The Doll is about to make up for lost time. Simon Wickham appears to be trapped in the caterpillar-laden basement, the stairs have collapsed and the doll is closing in, axe in hand. Swing after swing almost connects before the ventriloquist’s dummy throws it at him in frustration and it sticks in the wall. Using it as a step up, Simon leaps for the door and escapes in a very exciting sequence I’m sure had child readers thrilled.

Artist Francesc Masi seems to relish being able to finally draw more of the murderous toy. It’s expressions would’ve been terrifying for the target audience and his relentlessness in trying to kill Simon, who the readers would’ve been able to identify with, is quite severe. It’s clear by now the doll isn’t out to make mischief or harm, he’s a killer! This is confirmed by Simon’s foster mum Louise.

When Simon discovers a broken ventilation cover leading to the basement he realises the doll has been able to come and go undetected. Louise, knowing David is on his way to visit Uncle Frank in hospital and that he left with a suitcase big enough to house the doll, rushes them both to the hospital. On the way she comes clean and finally admits, to herself as much as to Simon, her previous foster child Alan was killed. It was no accident and it’s now clear to her the doll, now on its way to her comatose husband, was responsible.

There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment here which may be a hint of what’s to come in the finale. Look at David’s face while the monster that’s possessed him is beating Frank. Is he starting break through the spell? The strip ends with him leaving, suitcase in hand, just as the others arrive and Simon tentatively opens the door to Frank’s hospital room, now in darkness. I’ve loved this chapter and it’s definitely building to a climax. Of course I only know this with the gift of hindsight but it makes for a breathless episode and I’m excited to see how it’s all wrapped up in the next issue.

However, I can’t help but be a tiny bit concerned about the amount there still is to wrap up in just four pages. We’ve the mystery of Alan, David’s possession, the outcome of the attack on Frank and hopefully the defeat of the doll itself. I have faith in this comic though. So, while I can’t imagine how they’re going to do all of that I have faith they will! Let’s just hope it’s not left too open-ended as a result. I want a nice, satisfying end to the doll’s murderous rampages!

It’s hardly a sign of a comic series about to be cancelled

Eagle-eyed (no pun intended) readers may have spotted something was missing on the letters and drawings pages, the end of The Doll and the final panel of the Scary Cat Challenge strip. Namely, the address for the comic. Clearly its fate was known in advance (unlike Ring Raiders) and it would’ve been unfair to ask the young readers to send in more contributions when they would only have been received after the final issue had gone to the printers. But on Spooks’ letters page there’s an advertisement which gives a different sense of how the title was performing.

On the same day as this issue went on sale, the Super Naturals Adventure Book was also released. A thick, glossy publication along the lines of the OiNK and Wildcat Winter Specials and most likely timed to entice all the new toy owners from Christmas to buy it (and through it discover the comic). It’s hardly a sign of a comic series about to be cancelled. Obviously it would’ve been created a long time before this point when hopes for Super Naturals were still high but still, I can imagine the shock of readers who picked it up only for the next regular issue to announce it was the end!

Speaking of readers, let’s have a quick look at a couple of contributions to Spooks’ letters pages. I really like this Tom Williams drawing of George Michael as a Ghostling, created to beat the evil Weird Wolf‘s terrible singing. Reading this today and seeing him as a ghost has a different feeling to it, but as a fan I like the idea of him protecting us mortals with his music. Also, Mr. Lucky grants a reader’s wish in a moment which reminds me this is very much a Barrie Tomlinson comic.

The Scary Cat Challenge this issue is based on an idea sent in by reader Jonathan Williams of Liverpool. It takes place in India where Professor Ronald Barton is in his element, enjoying the culture and people and paying his respects to the history of the country. His ungrateful son Julian however doesn’t even want to go. When they get there he’s foul to every local, intolerant to the ways of the people, their cultures, food and language and even thinks the Taj Mahal is nothing compared to Wembley Stadium! He reminds me very much of a certain kind of British tourist we all know too well from holidaying abroad.

Julian ends up insulting many of the locals. One particular temple tour guide doesn’t take kindly to a comment from him. Standing in front of a golden statue depicting The Snakes of Panatha Julian scoffs at the prophecy, that “one day the golden snakes of Panatha will reincarnate”. Asking Julian to respect their ways, instead the guide is verbally abused. Apologising on his behalf, his father the Professor tries to reason with Julian but his son is just as rude to him. By this stage I felt myself becoming frustrated with the character, which is the whole point. We can also see where this story is going when he returns to his hotel room to find a smaller version of the same statue as part of the decor.

He throws a blanket over it and climbs into bed to read a football magazine he brought from home to “get away from a load of old mumbo-jumbo”. We see the blanket move and golden snakes appear, one after the other, accompanied by the eerie caption, “A moving snake makes no noise”. Screaming in fright, Julian ends up entangled among them and we suddenly find the story jumping forward to the next morning, where a local doctor is examine him.

While the comic doesn’t go so far as to scare a kid to death this time (see #6), the outcome could actually be worse for this particular brat. The final page shows his body stiff but still breathing, his heart racing but no movement or reactions whatsoever. He’s been frozen in fear, possibly for the rest of his life. These final panels showing Julian’s facial expression are the creepiest of the whole story, but add these to the moments of the snakes surrounding his bed and that silent panel in particular and Julio Vivas once again captures the potentially scary moments perfectly. I’m sure young fans would’ve loved his work!

After a brief Ghostling Tale involving a fairground ghost train we move on to our final strip which as per usual is The Curse, drawn by Alan Langford. In the tombs under the Thames Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat have discovered where Britannicus lies and are attempting to open his casket to release his curse upon the world. Knowing they’re late to the party, Lionheart and Eagle-Eye take up arms against Burnheart outside and we finally get some Super Natural-on-Super Natural fight scenes. Don’t get me wrong, the story has been intriguing and I’ve been eager to see what this Britannicus fella is all about, but Alan did such an amazing job of the fight scenes in his previous story (Mount of Athos) I’ve been looking forward to them clashing again with him on art duties.

There are spells and flames and swords and guns aplenty but the setting just can’t relive that epic feeling from the previous story. However, it’s still fun and as always we have to remember the original audience. Eventually, as the good guys recover from a spell cast by Scary Cat, she and Burnheart race inside to recharge the flame gun (see last issue) and finally free Britannicus’ body. But it appears the Romans knew it could still be of value to evil and so they sealed it within a further casing, this time made of brass. Knowing it’ll take longer to break into this, Skull and his cronies retreat through the underground sewers until they reach a dead end.

The final panel halts the action as the Bat Bopper unleashes one of its flying bombs and the ‘Next Issue’ panel simply states, “The Flood!” so I think we can guess what’s on the other side of that dead end. It’s a much lighter episode this time compared to the atmosphere-rich story we’ve had thus far. T here are also more examples of using Skull for comedy which I found humorous last time because it hadn’t been done before, but now I feel it’s taking away from that gloriously scary leader Alan portrayed in Mount of Athos.

Nevertheless, knowing the final chapter is upon us I’m still looking forward to seeing how this one is resolved, even if it’s now looking very unlikely we’ll get to see what Britannicus looks like or what his curse entails.

It’s sad to think there’s only one more issue of the regular comic to go, but I’m excited by the Adventure Book, which as I explained above also went on sale on this day back in 1988. So I’ll be spending time this week reading that for the full review in seven days, to fill the gap between the penultimate and climactic issues of Super Naturals. So come back to check that out on Sunday 13th February 2022.

SUPER NATURALS #7: LICENSED TO THRiLL

After the festive cover for #5 and the fantastic montage that made up last issue’s, this Super Naturals cover by Sandy James is initially a little disappointing. But that’s only because of the comparison to the more elaborate ones that went before. It may be a lot simpler but it does focus on possibly the best of the evil Super Naturals so perhaps it’s a sign of some really fiery content. We’ll see. Inside, The Doll remains in its position as our first strip and the opening page includes this fantastic image by way of a recap.

As well as looking great, there’s another good reason behind this image of the doll looming large over the house; the little wooden murderer doesn’t actually appear in the strip this issue. Regular readers might’ve felt a little short-changed if his evil face wasn’t included somewhere, but quite possibly it was more to clue in new readers to we were dealing with. This issue’s chapter focusses entirely on Simon Wickham as he searches the house on his own, so this recap panel reminds us of the larger story and the implications of the doll’s continued survival.

Also, it’s just such a brilliant, atmospheric picture.

While the dummy doesn’t appear, this chapter has what is arguably one of the most memorable moments in Super Naturals’ whole run. Those caterpillars above make a gross reentry into the story just a few panels later as Simon thinks to himself that his chicken tastes a bit “odd”. Queue the following image which made me gag a little at the thought, I’ll admit. I do hope Francesc Masi knows how some fans reacted the artwork he produced.

Once recovered from this shock the rest of the story has Simon make his way into the cellar of the house after hearing a noise from underneath the floor. Convinced the doll is trying to scare him into inaction, he braves the dark and makes his way down. The floor is a sea of caterpillars and, after Simon becomes trapped in a crumbling staircase, they begin to crawl all over him before a cackling shape starts to rise up out of them for this issue’s cliffhanger.

Apart from the gross-out moment above, the main purpose of this chapter appears is to build upon some of the already established mysteries, such as the fate of previous foster child Alan, who is described as having met some terrible but undefined end because of the doll. Most likely in relation to this is the fact the Marshall’s cellar door is boarded up with several planks of wood. Simon has been told no one has been down there for years. Is this where Alan met his doom? Is this where the doll was trapped? Or originally found? A shocking but ultimately intriguing chapter that heightens anticipation for what could come next.

The additional features have moved up from the second half of the comic. There’s another one-page Ghostling Tale in which a scientist perfects some form of death stare to kill any living thing by looking at it. He kills his cat and several plants before looking in the mirror to congratulate himself, with predicable results. Serves him right for the cat. On Spooks‘ letters page a reader asks for Anneka Rice to be placed into the Tomb of Doom because of her continuous smile. But it appears Spooks (or should that be editor Barrie Tomlinson) is a bit of a fan. There’s also an advert to hype up the new Eagle and Battle weekly when Battle folded after a successful run of 664 issues since its creation in 1975!

A high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger

The Scary Cat Challenge has a lot to live up to this issue after the last stunning strip we were treated to last time thanks to Massimo Belardinelli‘s art. Food For Thought is based upon an idea sent in by reader Daniel Bridge of Hull. The artist is unknown at this time, although they’re definitely the same one who drew the strip featured in the very first issue. It involves a school visit to a life-size prehistoric model village and one of the kids sneaks off to rest behind some rocks away from his class on a hot summer’s day. We see this exact location in prehistoric times as rather clichéd cave people summon their god to bring them food.

Some kind of portal in time opens and they see Kenny Warren, our school kid. Initially thinking he’s a god, they soon turn on him as a trickster when he can’t produce any food for the starving group. They give chase and the main bulk of the strip is his attempt to flee, involving a high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger.

Yes, he really did just say he was always good at tobogganing! In the end it’s the usual scenario where Kenny wakes up just before he’s killed by the cave people, figuring out it’s all a dream before he spots something spooky which suggests it really happened. In this case, he still has snow on his shoes. It’s all rather tame after the spectacle in #6 but for the target audience it had a high stakes chase and big, scary prehistoric beasts so I’ll assume it went down a treat at the time.

The Legend of the Super Naturals is now in the middle of the comic and continues to build on the lore. Lionheart and Thunder Bolt materialise in England and Burnheart naturally tries to incinerate them. However, even though they’re in a weakened state from their transference (see last issue) no harm comes to them because they’re in their secondary state. Each character has their original human ghost form and their solid, real world animal form. In between is this “secondary state”, their humanoid shape but baring the features of their animal totem. It’s while in this form that they can unleash their hidden magical powers.

This is the most interesting of the various layers the comic has been adding to what the toys established, and it means the cool holograms weren’t just for looks anymore. No longer are the battles just simple fist fights and magic spells, each of their forms carries advantages and disadvantages for all of them and I just hope this can be built upon further before the final edition. The battles in this issue are certainly a step up from all that came before! It’d be such a shame to see all of this potential go unrealised, much like fellow holographic toy franchise comic, Visionaries.

We’ve also had a change in artist which I failed to mention last time. The first chapter’s creepy art was expertly crafted by John Gillatt before Dave D’Antiquis brought a more action-packed approach to the strip. Now, regular contributor to Barrie’s comics Sandy James takes the helm. Known for his full-colour covers and posters, at first I didn’t recognise the art as his, simply because it’s unusual for me to see his work in black and white (he also drew a fantastic full-colour strip for Ring Raiders). The solid line work, this version of Skull and the panel showing the Tomb of Doom (of which he drew a poster for #1) are classic Sandy.

Speaking of his posters, this page below takes up the middle pages and takes a break from the usual individual character portraits to bring us the evil Super Naturals’ vehicle, the Bat Bopper. Tonka were renowned for their toy trucks and the ones in the Super Naturals range looked they would’ve been great fun to have as a kid.

After seeing it munch its way through a wall at the end of last issue’s The Curse it’s confirmed here that it’s a sentient being in its own right. The ghostly face on the front was a superb three-dimensional hologram on the toy and I remember the adverts featured it rearing up on its back wheels as described here. As always Sandy has produced a very colourful, fun poster and it’s probably my favourite so far thanks to it being much more detailed than previous ones.

Moving on to our more light-hearted strip, Ghostlings. Drawn by Anthony Williams, Spooks takes up arms (geddit?) against the future human tribe’s enemies. In fact, he even gets a little bit carried away with all of the bravado in this funny moment as the last of the Crevice-Crawlers makes its escape.

The human Troggers still claim all of this was foretold and want to elevate Spooks to be their leader, to protect as they reclaim the surface. But Spooks knows he can’t abandon his comrades and so uses the fact he’s about as typical a ghost as you can get and disappears, materialising outside. However, he then has to sneak past the guards because he’s used up all his energy and can’t disappear again. This must mean he can’t even slide through walls (or in this case the rocks) like a ghost normally would until he recovers.

Initially I thought the cliffhanger didn’t make any sense (you can see it below). My first reaction was one of confusion, I’ll admit. He’s a ghost, surely the rock would just pass through him. But rereading his dilemma above I’m going to assume the fact he can’t disintegrate himself or pass through the rocks is the basis for the cliffhanger, as he could actually get crushed now. Of course the perpetuator of this falling boulder, Weird Wolf wouldn’t have known all this, so it still begs the question why would he think this would hurt a ghost.

I’m well aware I’m probably overthinking this children’s comic. But that’s the thing with reading these childhood favourites without the rose-tinted glasses. We may remember the wonder and enjoyment these comics brought and reliving those feelings is great fun, but we also can’t help but view them through jaded adult eyes. I think I’m right though about Spooks’ energy being low and that’s the reason behind the ending. I have faith the answer will be forthcoming in 14 days.

The final strip continues Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat‘s Christmas Day quest to find the Tomb of Britannicus in 19th Century London and unleash his dire curse upon the world. As I predicted last time the human soldiers the good Super Naturals Lionheart, Eagle Eye and Spooks find themselves up against can cause them no harm in their primary form but their Ghost Finder vehicle is vulnerable. They can’t lose their transportation or they’ll never catch or defeat Skull in his. They also can’t transform into their animal forms because they could be gunned down, but most importantly to Lionheart they can’t scare the men away, not when the soldiers have guns and in their panic could hurt each other.

In the end, as the terrified men realise their bullets are simply passing through the so-called “fiends”, their commander takes charge with a sword, only for a very apologetic Eagle Eye to grab him by the throat, instantly putting the man to sleep. He tries to explain to the troops that they’re here to help and he salutes them as he leaves, but he knows how fear and reason make bad bedfellows and so he casts a “Blessing of Forgetfulness” over them and they fall asleep too. It shows how they have to be more thoughtful in their dealings with us humans, not just simply blasting through in the name of the greater good. It’s quite refreshing, actually.

So the tomb has been found and as Burnheart goes to stand guard outside (knowing Eagle Eye will sense where they are) he leaves his flame gun behind so his leader can unleash the curse. We’ve seen reference to their weapons running low and having to recharge their magical energies in previous issues. It makes for a funny moment when the magical power of Burnheart’s gun runs out, leaving the all-conquering Skull and his frightful Ghostling quite literally left in the dark as to what to do.

The Doll’s skin-crawling moments aside this issue might be short on the frights but it’s been a really entertaining read nonetheless. With more being established about the licenced characters the writers (most likely Barrie Tomlinson and James Nicholas at least) are really getting to grips with them and it shows. I could easily have said the non-licenced strips were the highlights in most of the previous issues but here the Super Naturals themselves have reclaimed their namesake comic in three highly entertaining tales that have left me eager for more.

It’s just as well #8 is already sitting here on my shelf waiting to be devoured for the next review on Sunday 6th February 2022. A curse upon you if you’re not here on that day.