Thursday, 6 February 2020

SUPER NATURALS #8: PENULTIMATE PETRIFICATION

<< GO TO ISSUE SEVEN


Anthony Williams' cover would have been a treat for fans of Spooks and it's actually the first time a front page has been drawn to represent one of the strips inside. The first handful were general covers showing off the characters as an introduction to the new comic, while #6's reused images from one of the strips inside but this is the first original cover to do so. A sign of things to come if the comic had continued perhaps. Yes that's right, it's the penultimate issue of Fleetway's excellent Super Naturals comic.

We'll not dwell on that until the actual final issue in a fortnight's time. Inside, eagle-eyed (no pun intended) readers may have spotted something was up because on the letters page, drawings page and at the end of the Scary Cat Challenge the address for readers to send in their contributions was missing. But on that letters page was a half-page advert which gives a different impression of the fate of the comic, one of a successful title already spinning off into special publications.


On the same day as #8 the Super Naturals Adventure Book was also released! Hardly a sign of a comic about to be cancelled. In the flesh (so to speak) the Adventure Book is a beauty and of the highest print quality too. I'll be reading it over the course of this next week, so watch out for a bonus review in about seven days or so, making the final regular issues on the blog a weekly affair and giving the whole thing the feeling of a grand finale. I haven't read any of it yet but a quick glance has me very eager to dive in.

But for now, it's back to #8 and the contents inside see the strips back to the original running order, beginning with part eight of The Legend of the Super Naturals.


Last time, I waffled on about the comic establishing the three states of the Super Naturals characters and it appears this is definite canon now, what with them being referred to in all three of the toy franchise's strips. Here, Dave D'Antiquis' depiction of Eagle-Eye atop the solid lion form of his leader, Lionheart is an exciting opener for the strip and the comic as a whole. As Skull and his cronies continue to track down the mystical sword of Excalibur, the good guys keep coming up against shocked humans who rightfully think they're all evil monsters. Once again they find themselves in a predicament where their ultimate goal must be placed to one side in order to protect innocents.

It leads on to a funny moment where, failing to calm the scared men, Lionheart and Thunder Bolt instead take their tractor to chase after Skull, giving both a chance to fully recharge their supernatural powers before battle. But seeing the armour clad heroes trundling along on the tractor does make for a rare moment of humour in the comic.


We're given ample opportunities this issue to be shown just how powerful the evil Super Naturals are and their devotion to death and destruction on a massive scale. For the sake of amusement they destroy an entire English village, laying waste to everything and everyone in no time at all. Over in the States thanks to Eagle-Eye's senses, the Ghost Catcher's missile launcher and little-used character Hooter's alchemy they've discovered a mineral to power their vehicle and soon they're flying to England for the final confrontation. It should make for a suitably epic battle next issue.

After not actually showing himself last issue (but having his presence very much felt), The Doll is about to make up for lost time! Now, I've seen many a horror film in my time that's scarier when the killer isn't seen, when it's all smoke and mirrors, so to speak. Then, when the finale begins all that wonderful suspense is traded in for endless attempts to outdo its own scares and, ultimately, it leads to disappointment. I'm very pleased (and a little smug) to say many horror movies could learn a thing or two from this strip.


The basic plot of this episode sees our unwitting hero Simon escape from the cellar by the skin of his teeth, sealing off the entrance from the house, reasoning the doll must have another secret entryway somewhere, finding an air vent outside and sealing it off too. He then finally demands answers from his foster mum Louise. But just as she's about to tell him all she knows of their previous foster son Alan, Simon asks where his little brother David is, who he suspects is under the doll's control. Lousie saw him cycle off to the hospital to visit Frank, with a suitcase! The doll must've got out before Simon could trap him and is inside the case!

As ever, Francesc Masi's artwork is nothing short of perfect for this strip and he seems to relish finally getting to show more of the doll than ever before. This may be a kid's comic but again and again the monstrous little devil tries to kill Simon. This thing isn't out to make mischief, it's out to kill. Seeing it do so in previous issues and knowing Alan is definitely dead just makes each close call more and more suspenseful.


Rushing to the hospital, Louise finally admits (to her herself more than to Simon) that the doll is alive. Alan became "wicked" before he died and she finally admits she knows he was killed. It was the doll. Together, terrified the same thing is about to happen to David too, they make their way to the hospital and rush up to Frank's room, where we rejoin the wooden killer and David just moments before.


It's interesting to see David's face in the panel above. He may be under the doll's control but he certainly looks concerned about what he's witnessing. Is he still in there? The strip ends with him leaving, suitcase in hand, just as the others arrive and Simon tentatively opens the door to Frank's hospital bed, apparently in darkness. Then that's it for now. Two more weeks until the final chapter.

Part of me is excited for that final chapter and part of me is worried.

How far in advance of the comic's cancellation did the writers and artists know about it? Were they able to bring all their stories to a close satisfactorily? I know there's the Adventure Book and a Holiday Special but I'm not sure if the stories carry on over to them or not. Certainly, editor Barrie Tomlinson's later Ring Raiders comic produced a superb special to conclude all the stories which had begun in the comic but I'm not sure that's the case here. The Adventure Book was released while the comic was still in production and while I don't read any of these until I'm reviewing them (reading them in real time remember), I do have to quickly flick through them just to make sure all pages are present, correct and in good condition when I buy them off eBay.

I don't think the comic's stories carried on into the special that'll appear on the blog later this year. I could be wrong of course because I try not to look at the contents too much. But if I'm right then that means we've only got one more chapter of The Doll to go to wrap up the mystery of Alan, defeat The Doll (maybe, it might be left hanging), save David (hopefully) and Frank and end the story. That seems like a lot for four pages! The ninth issue is on the shelf beside me, I tentatively await opening it in a fortnight.


Sandy James may have drawn his final cover of the regular comic but he's still churning out the goods with the posters. After the Bat Bopper last issue now it's time for the good natured Ghost Finder vehicle to take centre stage. I love those skulls in the wheels! From comments on the blog's Instagram there are plenty of fans out there for Tonka's Super Naturals range, as limited as it was in the end. The general consensus is that they were of an incredibly good build quality and I certainly remember the Ghostling I had was a very robust and solid figure. The trucks in particular stand out in people's minds, which is understandable when you think about how synonymous with quality Tonka Trucks always were.

The poster includes some extra details, like the fact it can't be destroyed in our world, nor can any harm come to humans no matter who is behind the wheel. But, while I realise it's just an expression, driving so fast that it almost overtakes itself makes no sense no matter how much I try to think about it. Who cares though? It's a fun poster for the young readers' walls and that's what counts.

Speaking of readers, let's have a quick look at a couple of contributions to Spooks' letters pages. I really like that Tom Williams drawing of George Michael as a Ghostling to beat the evil Weird Wolf's terrible singing, even if it is a rather bittersweet moment these days. Then Mr. Lucky grants a reader's wish in a moment which reminds me that this is very much a Barrie Tomlinson comic.


As always these pages are followed by the Scary Cat Challenge and this issue the reader's suggested plot takes place in India and sees Professor Ronald Barton taking his ungrateful son Julian on a trip to fantastical historic sites. I found the character of Julian to be quite prescient. I mean, it's not like I don't think these people existed at the time, they always have unfortunately, but given the world right now his character makes the story feel very contemporary.


From being ignorant towards the fascinating past of the country and towards its customs, to thinking he's better than the place he finds himself in, he ends up insulting many locals including one particular temple tour guide who doesn't take kindly to one particular comment from Julian. Standing in front of a golden statue of a snake-covered Panatha Julian makes one horrible comment too many and the guide warns him of the prophecy, that "one day the golden snakes of Panatha will reincarnate". Asking him to respect their ways, the guide is verbally abused by Julian.

His father apologises profusely to the guide who tells him not to worry. But as they leave, the guide's eyes glow. That night in his hotel room Julian spies a new statue in the corner, a copy of the one from the temple. Grossed out by it he throws a blanket over the statue and climbs into bed to read a football magazine he brought from home to "get away from a load of mumbo-jumbo". We see the blanket move and a golden snake appear, accompanied by the eerie caption, "A moving snake makes no noise", before we move on to the following page.


Now surely the outcome and what the young attendant saw can't be too bad, right? In response to that I say, do you not remember the outcome to #6's Scary Cat Challenge? While the comic doesn't go as far as to scare a kid to death this time, Julian's outcome could actually be worse. The final page shows his stiff body being examined by a doctor. Breathing, alive, but frozen in fear possibly for the rest of his life, artist Julio Vivas again captures the horror perfectly. Just look at Julian's frozen face. I'm positive kids loved being horrified by such images!


Unfortunately there's one weak link in the Super Naturals chain this issue and that's the Ghostlings strip. It's been the more light-hearted story throughout the run, concentrating more on fun stories with these smaller characters rather than any sort of scares. Not much happens, with Thunderbolt arriving out of the blue to save Spooks (and contradicting how Ghostworld works, but hey ho), causing a stampede of the surface-dwelling monsters who clash and start to battle. But it's the cliffhanger which I find particularly lazy, which you can see below.


While I do really like Anthony Williams' style, particularly in his portrayal of the caveman-like future humans and his inventive monsters, to have the cliffhanger happen off-camera (as it were) and just have a character mention it seems very off and, as I said, disappointing. Oh well, last up is another highlight of the comic's series so let's move on!


Alan Langford's The Curse continues its very atmospheric journey towards its (hopefully) fantastic conclusion. Once again we get clarification of the forms of the Super Naturals, making it and the comic as a whole feel grounded in a solid, thought-out mythical background story. In the rat infested tombs under the Thames Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat have discovered the tomb of Britannicus and are attempting to open it at last and release his curse upon the world. Knowing they're late to the party, Lionheart and Eagle-Eye take up arms against Burnheart 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 hooked every issue, but Alan did such an amazing job of the fight scenes in his previous story (Mount of Athos, which began back in #1) I've been looking forward to them clashing again with him on art duties.


Scary Cat appears and freezes both of the good Super Naturals, their limbs feeling as if they've turned to stone, allowing Burnheart to get back inside and recharge his flame gun so his leader can unseal the metal plates locking Britannicus inside his sarcophagus. Unfortunately for him, but lucky for the world, the Romans had sealed the sorcerer inside a secondary casing like a solid form of mummification. Not wanting to damage the body with their flames they scarper with it and leave the good guys in their wake.

Once again though the highlight is Skull himself as depicted by Alan. Skeletor could only wish he looked like this in his comic!


It's sad to think there's only one more issue of the regular comic to go, it really did deserve to have a long and chilling life, but I'm also excited by the Adventure Book and then there's a Holiday Special to come as well. Two big, thick specials to go then! Now that's me excited again!

The Adventure Book will be reviewed towards the end of next week and #9 will jump out of the caterpillar-infested cellar on Thursday 20th February.


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