Tag Archives: Sandy James

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 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.

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.