Commando: Rescue Mission #970 – Unknown

CommandoAn English general, a Russian general and an American general are in a German chateau. No it isn’t the start of a joke it is the premise for this bizarre war story.

Commando is a digest sized magazine that has been printing illustrated war stories since 1961 and is still going strong to this day. It isn’t a graphic novel as such but there are two or three panels per page that have both prose narration and speech bubble dialogue. The pictures are always to accompany the story never to tell it.

This issue is from 1975 and it shows. The Germans are stereotypes uttering “Himmel” and “Donner und Blitzen” and providing the comedy relief. Whilst they are the bad guys they aren’t actually faceless and evil. They behave rationally and intelligently and act with courage and honour. Their key personnel all have names and just as much characterisation as the allies – which isn’t that much.

You aren’t sure if the story is meant to be true or not. Names and places are all detailed but the story is so extraordinary that you feel like you are watching the sequel to Where Eagles Dare. It is very wordy but certainly ticks along quite merrily and delivers you expertly to the finish.

The art is black and white ink with the occasional area of grey shading. It has a colour cover and looks to be printed on the cheap book stock of the time that yellows and crumbles fast.

Despite the fact not a single female appears or is referenced in this book it still gets a Thumbs Up and would definitely make a great film.

Mandy 57: House of Fear – Unknown

Mandy 57This is a collected digest of one of the stories serialised in the weekly version of Mandy. It was part of D.C. Thompson’s broad range of titles targeted at female readers and was published in 1982.

This is a simple story that plays a neat little trick on you from the beginning. The start of the story, and in particular the horror themed cover, suggest you are reading a supernatural tale, a common subject for this genre. It is actually a mystery reminiscent of a Famous Five or Secret Seven adventure. There is no date given but the fashions, servants, talk of workhouses, and horse drawn carriages all point to something set more than a century ago.

The art is typical of the genre with rigid panels and black and white line drawings. The backgrounds do seem to have more attention and detail than most and there are some strong light and shadow effects.

A Thumbs Up!

Debbie 144: Harrow House – Unknown

debbie144This volume was published in 1990, four years after the last volume I reviewed (#101). Nothing has changed in theme, tone or art style. The story concerns twelve year old Betty Larkin who is sent to an orphanage in 1889. Naturally it is a terrible place, but there seems to be a friendly ghost helping the children. There is some Dickensian mystery with lost deeds and missing relatives and you can work out how it will end.

The art is the same with the usual page split but this seems to have more borderless panels and diagonal divisions. The drawing is really heavy black ink with thick clunky lines but a lot of hatching and background effort. The features and costuming also convey a sense of the period.

Once again the message, typical of this genre, is that pluck and courage will win the day and there is a happy ending waiting for all the poor and downtrodden. Definitely no anti-heroes here.

Thumbs Up!

Debbie 101: School of the Shadow – Unknown

Debbie 101This is a collected digest of one of the stories serialised in the weekly version of Debbie. This is a boarding school story that is a very common theme in this area of fiction. Despite being published in 1986 the school is very different to the Grange Hill comprehensives more familiar to its readers. This is something more at home in the 1950’s or an Enid Blyton book.

The story is actually a clever one and contains a supernatural element also common in girl’s comics. Whilst there is no real horror the thought of being picked on and not being believed when you are telling the truth are strong emotional anchors. The girls win through by using their heads and taking risks to outwit misguided authority. Resource and perseverance are the key qualities rewarded here.

The layout is the very rigid two or three panels per page so typical of these books. The art is black and white line drawing but with a fair amount of hatching and solid black fills. All the characters appear different from each other and enjoy a fair amount of expression. When supernatural influence is at work you get a gargoyle’s face pop up as an insert into the frame. This ruins any suspense or mystery and it would be interesting to have read the story and worked out what was going on yourself.

An interesting read, well thought out and well put together.

Thumbs Up!

Judy 120: Wendy of the Wastelands – Unknown

Judy 120This is a collected digest of one of the stories serialised in the weekly version of Judy. It was part of D.C. Thompson’s broad range of titles targeted at female readers and was published in 1973. Unlike many of these titles this has a real-world feel eschewing a school setting or supernatural elements of many of its peers.

The story concerns Wendy Wilson who fights to save a patch of Marshland important for local wildlife from oil drilling. The ecological movement was in full swing in the 1970’s with The Good Life appearing on TV and encouraging a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Whilst there is no character development or real depth to Wendy other than her sensitivity and enthusiasm she isn’t a perfect heroine or a cardboard cut-out. She has doubts and makes compromises and it is her belief in the cause that convinces others to join her so it is not a singlehanded fight.

The adults, and other children, are shallow and those opposing Wendy are seen as mean and spiteful people. There are grownups who help at each stage but don’t take over. Her campaign features petitions, exhibitions, protests, and visits to managing directors and parliament. Showing the age of this work even the vicar, who had popped in for tea, gets involved.

There is no mention of Wendy’s mother and she lives at home with “her crippled artist father.” This line appears in the opening narration but neither of those attributes are ever seen or mentioned again. There is a Jayne Eyre moment when the kindly local businessman turns out to be the man who owns the land but as a reader you suspected this all along.

The art is very creative considering the period and compared it its contemporaries. There are lots of full page panels, diagonal borders, unframed panels, round highlights, and bleed between frames. Nothing too wacky but still better than symmetrical repetition. The narration is kept to a bare minimum and comes from an external narrator with an occasional thought from Wendy. The rest is dialogue which is age appropriate and feels naturalistic.

A good story with a positive but not preachy message.

Thumbs Up!

Bunty 266: Rachel’s Runaways – Unknown

Bunty 266This is a girls comic from 1985, published in digest format, containing one complete story in 64 pages. Bunty began in 1958 and continued to 2001.

The story is set in a Victorian mill and concerns the plucky Rachel who at thirteen leads the ill-treated orphans to run away. Constantly on the run from the mill foreman the kids stop at local farms, orchards, inns and circuses doing good deeds and hard work for food. Despite being malnourished and brutalised by adults they never steal or cheat or drop their immaculate politeness.

Having a lone girl of such a young age as a competent leader, who never cries once, is a bold and welcome choice. It is a step beyond Enid Blyton’s day where the boys were in charge and you had to be a tomboy to compete. Rachel is clearly very bright, constantly outthinking her pursuers, and shows amazing integrity.

As readers we learn that the mill owner has softened his attitude and intends to treat the children properly. The cruel foreman chasing them is actually trying to bring them back to a better life. This removes any real drama and suspense as we know there is the safety net of a happy ending when the children are caught. It also undermines Rachel’s heroic efforts to safeguard her charges and stand up to unjust treatment. Maybe there is some subtext about obeying adults who clearly have your best interest at heart.

The art is the crudest of black and white line drawings with occasional hatching but no real shading. There are two, occasionally three, panels per page. Early on there is a diagonal division and vertical one but these are swiftly replaced by horizontal divides. There is virtually no narration but the odd thought bubble from a character helps the reader along. The story is told through the dialogue as there isn’t a single mute panel. But the artist is clearly talented in this medium and there is nothing to dislike.

This was an enjoyable read. It was surprising how independent and adventurous the children were and the female lead was superb.

Thumbs Up!