Tag Archives: Sandy James

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.

SUPER NATURALS #6: MONSTROUSLY GOOD ART!

My favourite Super Naturals cover so far wasn’t initially drawn as one. So impressive are Massimo Belardinelli‘s monstrous creations in one of the strips inside that they were used in a montage, with an image of Scary Cat by Sandy James hiding the seams. The black and white images work perfectly with that logo and I can only imagine what could’ve been if Massimo had been given the chance to design and colour a cover of his own!

The images are for the anthology tale not related to the licence and we surprisingly kick things off with the other original story, The Doll. Moving from the middle of the comic to pole position could be a sign of the strip’s popularity and it’s got the shock factor to perfectly kick things off. It’s still Christmas Day and the family game of hide and seek almost ends in tragedy. Uncle Frank is rushed to hospital with the horrible knowledge that the doll (which he believed was somehow responsible for the death of previous foster child Alan) is alive and murderous.

He’s able to whisper this to Simon before he falls into unconsciousness and rushed away. Simon is the only one who knows the truth, apart from his seemingly hypnotised younger brother David of course. Speaking of David, he’s almost party to his older sibling’s murder in this issue. There really is a feeling of the stakes being upped here.

An angry Simon takes to searching the house, determined to finish this. But while looking out a suddenly opened window the doll creeps up from behind and pushes him out from the upper floor of the house. Luckily able to grab a drain pipe, it buckles under his weight while David just watches, his facial expression almost matching that of the doll’s. But when the Marshall’s son Clive enters the room David’s attitude completely changes and he rescues his brother from certain death.

Did he do this himself so as not to get caught? To play along as the innocent bystander? Or did the doll relinquish its spell over him, to keep his hypnotised state a secret for now? Maybe the doll simply ran off before being detected and its grip on David was lost. Intriguing questions and I look forward to answers soon. With the comic coming to an early end just three issues from now, I suppose the only upside to its cancellation is knowing answers will be forthcoming a lot quicker.

The layers are building; Frank’s hospitalisation while now knowing the truth, David’s apparently willingness to see his brother die, the fact the doll is clearly out to kill and not just terrorise. It’s wonderfully paced and Francesc Masi‘s artwork is perfect for a horror story like this, setting an idyllic scene with a horror element right in its centre. It ends with Simon hoking about under his mattress for Alan’s diary and his hand comes across something moving. I remember what comes next from the last time I read these a few years back and it’s probably the most memorable moment from the entire story. You won’t want to miss the next review.

Anthony Williams is the artist for Ghostlings which continues its future tale and the underground-dwelling humans are now officially called Troggers, our ghostly characters foretold as “the great deliverers from beyond”. Convinced both Super Naturals are there to help they won’t listen as Spooks tries to explain. We see Weird Wolf battling one of the Crevice-Crawlers and the strip ends with Web-Winders invading the caverns. The comic really is trying to get as many creepy crawlies into this strip as possible.

The evil Super Naturals have made it all the way to the Cornish coast

The Ghostlings form a truce, knowing it’s their only chance of escape back to the Tomb of Doom but this lasts all of a handful of panels before Weird Wolf takes off, too scared to fight these monsters and leaving Spooks to defend the humans alone, possibly losing his only chance of leaving before there Tomb of Doom disappears again. Despite his comical appearance, Spooks is developing into quite the hero and I really like that. I’m also enjoying the setting, which feels very much like classic Doctor Who‘s depiction of future worlds. I’m sure kids would’ve relished the giant insects, dinosaurs and spiders. As an adult it’s great fun and isn’t that the whole point of a comic?

The comic’s lead strip, Legend of the Super Naturals is now taking up residence in the middle pages and the evil Super Naturals have made it all the way to the Cornish coast in their flying Bat Bopper car. It’s interesting to read about the limits of the powers these characters and their vehicles have, the comic has rules within which it operates and they make for better story choices and drama. Here, the Bopper needs time to recharge its “aerial energy” and the good guys are in an even worse state which I’ll get to soon. But first I wanted to point out some wonderful little parts to this story.

Dave D’Antiquis once again does a superb job of bringing the toys to the page and even though I really liked Alan Landford‘s faceless Burnheart in #4, I think Dave’s more toy-accurate depiction here is also superb. The powerful image makes the fact the Ghostlings undermine his transformation in the same panel all the funnier too. Then Snakebite takes centre stage for what is a quite dark sequence when you really think about it.

He morphs into this reptilian humanoid form to use his hypnotising powers on three huntsmen who have discovered the Bat Bopper. His face in this form reminds me of the aliens in V, which would’ve still been on TV at the time so this may have heightened the thrills for the young readers. But what stands out is the fact he’s hypnotising the three men to take aim at each other and fire their shotguns. Yes, their barrels are empty by this stage but the intent is there for a truly horrific scene, making this probably the darkest moment in this story since #1‘s church scene.

While strong in other ways, the good guys’ Ghost Finder isn’t that great at flying and has to make its trip across the Atlantic Ocean in stages. While it’s not explained here I’m going to assume that means jumping from ship to ship, terrifying the crews along the way for the greater good. Knowing that will take too long Lionheart and Thunderbolt use a little-used power to travel from New Orleans to England instantly, even though this will mean they’ll not only be vastly outnumbered until the rest can catch up, they’ll also be weakened by the transference at the same time.

This is what I meant about restrictions on their powers being better for the story. If they all just had unlimited powers the comic would be nothing more than one repetitive battle after another. I’m not sure if the limitations were outlined in the toy range of if the comic created them, but either way it works. The three licenced strips have been doing a good job of defining these characters enough that I care about what happens to my favourites. These limits add some tension and drama on top.

The issue has another one-page Ghosting Tale of a bully trying to scare some campers with his shadow, only for that shadow to turn into a creature of the night and attack its owner, and there’s another poster by Sandy James in the centre pages. The above contribution to the letters pages caught my eye, not only because Mahmoud is from Northern Ireland where I reside myself, but also his heritage links him to the Ghostling he wanted to write to. As before, the accompanying illustration is by Fleetway stalwart Tom Williams.

The absolute star strip of this issue is the latest Scary Cat Challenge called Nightmare which is based on an idea sent in by reader Trevor Knott of Plymouth. The story revolves around a young boy who ditches school and ends up in the supposedly haunted Bedlington Castle on a tour to kill time. The castle is shrouded in mist and the tour guide is suitably creepy so we know there’s going to be something else going on. The young boy gets bored quickly and decides to wander off, poking about inside the castle’s restricted areas. The tour guide sees all however and soon decides to teach the lad a lesson “better than he would have learned at school today”.


“The boy trembles… shivers… and sits transfixed with fear…”

Nightmare

After making jokes about the tour guide’s looks and sneaking inside one too many private areas, the kid soon finds himself locked in a room full of medieval torture equipment. Thinking he’s not going to get out until the castle opens again the next morning he starts to cry, thinking of the trouble he’ll be in with his parents. It’s at this point, when he’s at his lowest, that he spots a shape taking form in the air around him. A man wearing an old-fashioned actor’s collar tells him he’s going to put on a show as a way of apologising for such an apparently boring tour. This is when artist Massimo Belardinelli unleashes his imagination!

Panel after panel we’re treat to (and the boy is terrified by) more and more horrifying creatures. Each one is an original, highly detailed masterpiece! This carries on for a few pages and there are some truly creepy and, depending on the age of the target reader, scary images here. Those same readers would’ve loved every panel though. They were buying Super Naturals for things like this!

Massimo was an Italian artist whose work I discovered as a kid when he drew the first two chapters of Joe Alien in editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat comic, an original science fiction title published a year after Super Naturals. (You can check out Massimo’s work in the Wildcat reviews.) He’s also known for his work on 2000AD‘s Ace Trucking Co. and Sláine amongst many others, where his highly detailed and highly imaginative alien/mythical art was a hit with readers.

I think the level of detail here is just incredible. The amount of time and effort afforded to this one strip, a one-off in a toy licence comic based on an idea from a reader, must’ve made young Trevor’s year! Any one of these panels could’ve been a splash page but Massimo packs them in on each page instead, and we see the boy becoming more and more terrified with each one. This is the kind of quality we had in our toy licence comics and the licence holders must’ve been thrilled with what Barrie and his team were producing for them.

The story concludes the next day and I have to say, even as an adult, it really shocked me! As the tour guide unlocks the door I was expecting the kid to either run out screaming, having learnt his lesson, or to be a gibbering wreck and ready to apologise for his behaviour. I did not expect him to be dead! To have been scared to death. So much so in fact, he’s become a petrified skeleton overnight, still inside his pristine clothes. What a shame this is somewhat ruined by the panel which immediately follows it.

While we’ll most likely never know for sure, I have a feeling the discovery of the skeleton was where Trevor’s original idea may have ended. The panel with the child turning the television off isn’t in keeping with the rest of the strip at all. Could it have been added so the story didn’t end with the death of a child? It’s quite possible and I’d understand why, of course. Although I would’ve thought Scary Cat‘s appearance would’ve had the same effect.

It doesn’t take too much away from the story though and nothing could take away from the art on display over these six pages! It’s sad to think of work like this being forgotten, that the comic wasn’t successful enough to last longer, to keep on producing strips of this quality and earning itself a reputation for doing so. Today there are those online who still scoff at the idea of licenced comics, who unfortunately will forever miss out on reading and enjoying things like this.

The licenced strips themselves don’t let the side down. As Legend of the Super Naturals continues to lay out the ground rules and develop the background to these characters, the final strip would be set at some later point in their story, gorgeously illustrated by Alan Langford. While he’s now decided to give Skull eyeballs (as opposed to the especially creepy version in his previous serial, Mount of Athos) his work is no less suited to the horror comic genre.

I particularly love how they set the Bat Bopper to work eating its way through the wall, that definitely raised a laugh

In England to uncover the lost tomb of Britannicus, a fictional barbarian sorcerer, last issue the evil Super Naturals explained if Britannicus is freed evil will break loose and rule the world. As this issue’s chapter starts they’re still racing down the Thames in a wonderfully atmospheric opening panel. Last time we had a classic Victorian Christmas as our opener for the festive special, but this time it’s quite the opposite, gloomy scene.

As for our heroes, they’ve become pinned in by locals determined to protect their families from them. To be fair, given the setting the locals are just as scared of the vehicles, so no wonder they’re unable to distinguish between the two sides. There’s a scene of Eagle Eye having to scare the “valiant citizens” away so that they’re not harmed in the pursuit of Skull and his cronies. It goes against everything they stand for but it’s for the greater good and concludes with this brilliant juxtaposition of Christmas Card-like imagery and Tonka truck!

The characters are settling into their different personalities, distinguishing themselves from each other in their actions and not just looks. It took a lot longer than six issues for more successful comics such as Transformers to do this as successfully. They’re also starting to use more of their unique special powers, which you can see below on the final page when we go back down the river and catch up with Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat as they find what they’re looking for thanks to Skull’s x-ray vision.

I particularly love how they set the Bat Bopper to work eating its way through the wall, that definitely raised a laugh, while at the same time it kind of makes sense when you consider the huge row of teeth the front of the possessed truck has! What a fun way to give us half of our cliffhanger. The other half is the final panel at the bottom, where we see the humans have reformed, summoned the military and the Ghost Finder and its passengers are in for a rough ride. We know guns have no effect on the Super Naturals in their humanoid forms so as long as they don’t transform into their animal personas they’ll be fine. Not sure if the same can be said of the Ghost Finder itself though and without their transport all may be lost.

There’s still the mystery around Britannicus and who or what he actually was to solve too, so the next chapter should be particularly interesting.

The Christmas issue still remains my favourite so far. That could be because of my love of the season combined with the festive ghost stories of course, but nonetheless #5 just pips this issue to the top of the list. But I must say there’s a real feeling of confidence about this issue. From the scope of its stories and some truly incredible artwork, to pushing at the boundaries of what a children’s horror comic can publish.

What a shame there are only three regular issues left in the series. However, there are also two big Super Naturals special editions though, the first of which will be reviewed before the final issue, and I’m really looking forward to getting my fangs stuck into that one. Before then are a couple more issues, the next of which will be reviewed on Sunday 23rd January 2022.

SUPER NATURALS #5: FESTiVE FRiGHTS

Super Naturals and Wildcat may have been released a year apart but they shared more than their editor, their fifth issues were also their festive specials. I’m a huge fan of Christmas but even I would’ve forgiven the Super Naturals team for not going overboard since the comic had just begun, however editor Barrie Tomlinson made sure it was a special treat with festive themes in four of the five strips, as well as an additional one-page strip, decorative trimmings around the letters page, a Christmassy poster and that fun Ian Kennedy cover of the Ghost Finder and its crew.

The issue is dated Boxing Day but would’ve been released early, arriving into eager young hands a few days before Christmas Day which, given the cover and the contents would’ve made for a wonderful treat. I just can’t help but feel happy when reading a seasonal issue of a favourite comic and this is one of the very best examples. Ghost stories always go down well at this time of year too, so surely this is a comic that can’t fail to entertain. Let’s see.

I was surprised when I picked up this issue because the glossy paper had gone, replaced with the same matte-finish stock all other Fleetway comics had at the time. But that doesn’t take away from any of the enjoyment in our first story, The Legend of the Super Naturals drawn by Dave D’Antiquis, which quite literally heads off in a different direction. The battle in New Orleans comes to its conclusion but not before Eagle Eye‘s predicament raises some interesting questions.

He’s injured when fired upon by an Air Force jet while transformed into the eagle, but when he changes back to his humanoid form he’s healed and the bullets pass straight through him. The healing part has already been established in the comic, he’s already dead after all, and they can’t actually kill each other never mind us having a shot at it. But it appears they don’t turn into mystical versions of their animal totems, they must actually turn into real, solid animals, capable of being killed. It certainly adds another dimension to the set up and one I hope is explored more. For now, he’s rescued by Spooks before Skull decides to take his team across the Atlantic (the trucks can fly) to England to destroy the mythical Excalibur and show them evil now rules. Told you it was heading off in a different direction for the new year!

In Ghostlings, drawn by Anthony Williams, we get confirmation it is indeed set on Earth in the far future where humans have regressed and now live in fear underground, calling themselves Guardians of the Underworld (so our self-importance hasn’t diminished then). What they live in fear of are the Surface Stompers, the dinosaur-like creatures we’ve seen already and the Crevice-Crawlers which are giant, intelligent, talking insect-like beings that prey on the humans for food. Spooks is rescued by these future humans when he becomes trapped amongst rocks after being pushed over a cliff by Weird Wolf. I’ll assume it’s his clothing that’s stuck, not him, seeing as how he’s a ghost and all.

We can finally put to rest the myth that The Doll was produced for another comic

While trapped his supernatural powers are able to recognise the time of year on this future Earth as Christmas and he reminisces about when he was alive centuries earlier. When he’s rescued he discovers the humans have a Christmas tree in their caves, although they don’t recognise the name, only that it’s a tradition they follow despite the meaning being lost centuries ago. The story ends with a cliffhanger for Weird Wolf as he encounters the beasts above ground. There’s also mention of a Rock-Ruler, so there’s definitely more scenario building to come. While Christmas feels a bit forced into this one, it’s still as interesting as last issue and shows the potential for Super Naturals stories to really go anywhere.

Moving on and hopefully the setting can finally put to rest the myth that The Doll was produced for another comic (just published within the pages of Super Naturals). I’ve known this all along but some online refuse to accept such a quality horror strip was intended for a licenced toy comic. In this seasonal issue the strip jumps forward a little, the ground is covered in snow as the police pull the body of the dead homeless man from the skip outside the Marshal’s home, while an evil figure watches from the roof, where clearly it’s been gleefully watching for a while as it’s covered in a thick layer of snow.

After Simon saves his foster dad from a falling roof slate (I wonder how that happened), noticing how his younger brother David didn’t even flinch when it fell, the story skips forward to Christmas Day. Peace has descended upon the house. It’s clear the doll’s presence hasn’t been felt in a while and David is glum as the family open gifts from each other. This doesn’t go unnoticed and the Marshals try hard to cheer him up, even giving him a brand new ventriloquist’s dummy! A window smashes at this exact moment and it’s assumed vandals threw something from outside, but Simon isn’t so sure.

The glass is all on the outside, meaning it was broken from inside the house. But how? A game of hide and seek brings the answers out into the open but first I do love a certain panel here. First, look at the one above on the right where Simon is convinced the doll was responsible but he can’t see anywhere for it to hide. Of course the readers’ eyes are drawn to the Santa Claus ornament on the side table, but it’s the next panel which I’m sure stuck in the minds of all those young readers, as Simon turns to leave.

Artist Francesc Masi is just superb at conveying real threat from what is essentially a toy. Again, the suspense is palpable in this chapter. What on the surface might’ve looked like a diversion from the main story to placate the Christmas issue is anything but. A game of hide and seek in the house builds tension with Simon hiding in dark, cramped places, hearing noises but then just discovering other family members in there with him. Meanwhile foster father Frank sneaks about the house looking for everyone when he comes across the new dummy torn to pieces, then hears a terrible scream as the doll swings down from a curtain, the arm of the new toy in its mouth, hurling himself at Frank as the chapter closes.

While it’s only a toy arm full of foam padding, the meaning is clear; the doll has ‘killed’ its replacement and now intends to take revenge on the person responsible for its purchase. In the final panel there’s the usual caption asking readers to send in their ideas for what could happen next, any printed on the letters page earning their senders a crisp five pound note. Perhaps this was included to balance out any shock from the last panels? Instead of the children having a murderous cliffhanger in their minds, instead they’d be thinking of what they would have happen next? It’s a good idea and no other strip does this.

A wonderful, colourful poster by Sandy James brings a rare piece of relief and happiness for the good Ghostlings, but not so much for their evil counterparts who are strung up and used as decorations on the Super Naturals Christmas tree. After that there’s a festively decorated double-page spread of letters before we move on to the The Scary Cat Challenge and the second in the series based on an idea sent in by a reader. This time it was Clive Sheppard of Lincoln who got two Christmas gifts of a £10 prize and the pleasure of seeing his imagination brought to life in his favourite comic.

Finding an empty box among their Christmas presents, an unnamed family decides it must have been wrapped up by accident and placed underneath the tree. No one owns up to the error and they simply decide to ignore it and go about celebrating the rest of Christmas Day. However, while they’re eating breakfast in the next room a mist rises out of the empty, unwrapped box and slowly takes on a ghostly shape.

Obviously surprised to find a strange old man in their living room the father of the house goes to ring the police, but the rest of the family implore him not to. Looking dishevelled and hungry, they don’t have the heart to turn him out on this particular day of the year, instead inviting him to stay for Christmas dinner. He remains mysterious about where he came from but this doesn’t appear to put the kind-hearted family off and soon they’re all gathered around the table. After dinner they realise they forgot the crackers and this is when the visitor reveals he isn’t any old homeless person.

From the cracker pulled by dad spills thousand of pounds in notes, from mum’s comes handful after handful of diamonds. When the children pull theirs a magical dust fills the room. “The stuff dreams are made of” explains the old man as he takes their hands and they begin to fly, visiting the moon, the pyramids, undersea reefs, the Himalayas and then flying back home sitting on the back of Concorde.

The family are awestruck and want to thank him but he insists he was the one who needed to thank them; they gave a stranger a warm place to be on Christmas Day, opening their home and their hearts and sharing their food. One of the young boys asks what would’ve happened if their dad had called the police and he shows them an illusion of all their worldly belongings disappearing and the whole family ageing far beyond their years. As he cancels the illusion he leaves their house and looks out through the page to the readers and wonders aloud who he could be visiting the next year.

The message is clear to the impressionable youth and is one that’s just as important in the world we now find ourselves in: Be kind. While it does centre around material possessions it’s actually a nice little metaphor for Christmas itself and taking that spirit of giving with you everywhere, and not just once a year. So not a scary tale but a nice addition to this particular issue before we head on to the new serial drawn by Alan Langford, which I was very pleasantly surprised to see starting off with possibly the most Christmassy of Christmas opening pages possible.

Last time the excellent Mount of Athos came to an end and I’ve tentatively waited to see what the team would replace it with.  Thankfully keeping Alan on to draw it, The Curse starts off with this gorgeous page of a festive Victorian London. The title at the top stands in stark contrast with the artwork which wouldn’t look out of place on a greetings card. But turn the page and into this Dickensian scene crashes Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat on the Bat Bopper.

This opening chapter is all about setting the scene and it does a wonderful job. It feels like Alan has really got to grips with these characters and having a great time drawing their creepy adventures. In the end, as they make their way up the Thames we find out Skull and his cronies are in search of the Tomb of Britannicus, the last resting place for a savage barbarian sorcerer, who if released is said to bring evil never seen before upon the world who entombed him. But first there’s the obligatory chase as Lionheart and his heroes give chase.

As you can see the evil Super Naturals have caused destruction and terror in no time at all, though the strip does manage to squeeze in some comedy. For example, at one point the horse on the first page bolts, the family inside thrown from their carriage as it crashes and their Christmas supplies are strewn everywhere, including their turkey which Burnheart can’t resist roasting with this flame power as he speeds past it!


“London, 1972. Under a drift of gentle snow, the city glows with all the festivity of Christmas Eve!”

The Curse

While I have no idea what Spooks is on about when he says he’s going so fast he’s almost overtaking himself (that just makes no sense whatsoever) I do enjoy how the humans are just as terrified of them and how they’re stopped by Skull taking out an enter house. Great action, gorgeous visuals and a real festive ghost story feel to it all. Wonderful stuff and already a worthy follow-up to the Mount of Athos, which is no small feat.

One final thing before I wrap up this review. You remember how our comics had little coupons to cut out and give to our newsagents, or small reminders to place our orders so we never missed out on an issue? Well, Super Naturals decided to do something a little different (in keeping with the comic as a whole) and gave us a full-page strip. While it doesn’t actually say anything about placing a regular order it kind of works in that regard and really would’ve make a wonderful advert to have appeared in other Fleetway comics at the time.

It’s actually the first in a series of small stories which would all fall under the banner A Ghostling Tale, each hosted by a different character. Another nice little addition to the comic.

So that’s it for now. This has been a blast from beginning to end. Having the Christmas vibe throughout was a surprise and an absolute delight, but then again maybe I shouldn’t have expect anything less from Barrie Tomlinson! Issues like this reaffirm the whole concept of this site. If I’d just binged on this series earlier in the year it wouldn’t have been as special as reading this now at Christmastime, it’s been evermore enjoyable reading it in real time. The next review will be here on Sunday 9th January 2022 and it would appear there’s a lot to look forward to in the New Year.