Thursday, 26 March 2020

SUPER NATURALS HOLIDAY SPECIAL: SPOOKY SPRINGTIME

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Welcome back to Ghostworld for the very last time. Well, as far as the comic strips and stories go anyway, but I'll elaborate on that at the end of the review. Just a month after the final issue comes editor Barrie Tomlinson's Super Naturals Holiday Special, containing 48 glossy pages of far-out action and adventure, beginning with our last Sandy James cover featuring these two fun vehicles. The special definitely has a more traditional action comic feel to it, along the same lines as the Adventure Book, rather than the horror/action of the fortnightly. Like the book there's no The Doll and the Scary Cat Challenge is another reprint from Scream! instead of being based on a young reader's twisted idea.

It all kicks off high in the air in SkyJack! drawn by Geoff Campion who contributed to the previous special but not the regular comic. The evil Super Naturals are hurtling towards another random exit from Ghostworld into our world when they apparently crash into "The Binary Barrier" which I'm assuming is the space around each exit shape, though it's not clear. They all topple out of the Bat Bopper and only Snake Eyes is able to force himself through a window, which happens to be on a transatlantic flight between New York and London. The plane immediately loses pressure and stands on its nose, heading straight into the ocean thousands of feet below. That is, until Snake Eyes actually saves the plane!


But of course it's so he can take advantage of the situation he finds himself in. Directing the aircraft towards Washington his intent becomes clear, to kill as many people as possible and plunge the whole country into chaos by wiping out their government too. Of course the heroic Ghost Finder and its occupants have other ideas and come through an open portal to the rescue. I have to say though, some of this looks very rushed, like that panel (above, right) where Lionheart and Hooter make their entrance, especially the buildings. It's definitely not as considered and detailed as Geoff's usual work and it's not the only panel to look that way. Some of it feels quite unfinished.

Our heroes need a way of safely diverting the plane and the solution is quite ingenious. I like the way it's not some miraculous rescue, as Hooter quite bluntly explains below.


In the end, once the plane levels out and the pressure equalises Lionheart materialises on board, slices a hole in the side and shoves both himself and Snake Eyes out and into the waiting Ghost Finder, leaving the plane to land safely. It's certainly an action packed script so it's just a shame the further along it goes the less detailed the artwork becomes. Definitely not indicative of Geoff's usual style.

There's a few extras in here too, such as the usual pin-ups of the toys, readers' drawings and a couple of the comic's double-page posters have been shrunk down to single pages. There's also Incident at Rock Canyon which to me looks like it was a future cover of the comic, used because of the cancellation, much like the extra cover image we got on the inside of the Ring Raiders Special. Sandy's renderings of the characters are still just as impactful in black and white and it's a nice addition to the special.


Like the Adventure Book there's a text story in here too and this one is called Racetrack Riot! It starts off pretty much the same as the previous one, where we get to know a sports contender just before the Super Naturals burst into our world. This time it's at a F1 track and driver Alan Dixon is test-driving a new type of super powered engine which Skull and his cronies want to steal and place into the Bat Bopper. They kidnap Alan and his team (again the humans know who our characters are) and hold them hostage inside their garage, ordering them to remove the engine from the car.


Outside Lionheart, Thunderbolt and Hooter sit it out, knowing they wouldn't be able to stop them from killing the humans if they interfered. Hooter is the one who comes up with a plan involving his owl form swooping in through a roof window pretending to attack the driver and his crew (once again using the fact we're afraid of all of these creatures to their advantage), forcing them to dive into a large pit area out of harm's way just as the other good Super Naturals launch their coordinated attack. It's all inconsequential but a fun read and is full of brilliantly described fast-paced action, but unfortunately we're currently unaware of the artist, although Barrie Tomlinson would've written it.

We believe the artist of the next strip is Keith Page though this is unconfirmed. It's certainly the real highlight of the special, so I've included it here in its entirety for you to enjoy. I'm sure Barrie and his team won't mind. The middle part of it is your standard Super Naturals tale, with Skull and Burnheart setting fire to a small town in order to spread a quick bit of death and destruction before being captured and taken back to Ghostworld. But it's what's left behind after they're gone that really sets this apart.

When they first crash through they arrive in a young boy's room in the late 19th century. A young boy in Austria in the late 19th century. A young boy in Austria in the late 19th century who likes to paint. Unafraid of the evil that's appeared before him, Skull sees something in the young human child and bestows upon him the power of evil before they head off to terrorise the locals. All the while the boy watches on...


I never read this special at the time (I think I can conclude I only ever bought #1, #2 and #9) but as a ten-year-old I think the significance of this would've gone over my head, having only been taught the most rudimentary history by that time in primary school. I would've just thought that Skull's latest idea was to spread evil via us children. Of course, if I'd read this a few years later at grammar school I would've known who the boy was. Knowing who he'd grow up to become and what he'd do to the world, Skull's little speech at the end is quite foreboding. I think it's a rather bold strip.

Also, I do love the huge shadowy Tomb of Doom!

As with the previous special the Scary Cat Challenge is framed as a challenge to not let the story scare you, rather than challenging the readers to send in story ideas. Once again it's a reprint and Ghostling Scary Cat is shoehorned in with a splash of colour to introduce the proceedings.


Originally published a few years prior in #9 of the short-lived Scream!, Ghost Town was part of the Library of Death series of stories and was written by Fred Baker, drawn by Mike Dorey and lettered by Jay Cobb. In an old American Western town the locals witness the arrival of one of those new fangled automobile things, but things take a disastrous turn when the car's brakes fail and it rolls straight into a dynamite storage (of course it would). It destroys the entire town, killing all of the inhabitants. As the last of the residents dies atop a pile of bodies he screams, "Murderers!!" and then we skip forward to the then present day of the mid-80s.

Two young lads pull over at a gas station to fill up and ask for directions back to the highway. The route they're given takes them off road and into the wilderness until they drive into a very old fashioned town where they're greeted by the Sheriff. The problem is he's a walking, talking skeleton. In fact the whole town is and they come for the boys, seeking revenge for their murderous act. Not having a clue what they're on about, the two lads make a run for it and in their panic end up inside a building with some weapons. They have no other choice but to open fire on the walking dead, but the decomposing police official is quicker on the draw.


Obviously it was written for a different title originally but it perfect suits this toy licence comic when you compare it to the gruesome outcomes that happened to children featured previously (and those were in stories submitted by children!). After this and the one featured in the Adventure Book I do hope Rebellion release a collection of these one-off stories like they have for some of the ongoing series from Scream! If they're as enjoyable as these two it would be a day one purchase for me.

After the thrills we go the way of comedy for Anthony Williams' final Ghostlings strip in which Hooter finally gets a lead role, up against Scary Cat. It's turning into a bit of a Hooter Special this. Emerging from Specter's realm over a zoo with the intention of letting the animals into the nearby town, the old witch is foiled when Hooter attempts to sprinkle his Sack of Sleep powder over her. She pounces on him in cat form but it doesn't go quite to plan.


The sleeping powder has put all the animals to sleep instead! Both transforming back into their humanoid forms they crash to the ground, Scary Cat landing on and inhaling the powder, falling asleep. Both of these things were a complete accident, such is the nature of the Hooter character. It's a quick strip which brings some light-hearted silliness to the proceedings, which was always the intention of the regular one in the comic really.

From their own strip to a one-page Ghostling Tale. These started back in #5 with a superb little story about a boy buying the latest issue of the comic and unknowingly surrounded by ghosts and monsters. They continued to tell quick little stories with a twist, each one 'presented' by a different Ghostling. In keeping with his more frequent appearances this time it's the turn of Hooter and it features a certain vessel I'm particularly interested in (perhaps it's the fact I live where I do) so I had to include it, featuring art by Mike Dorey again.


In the last few reviews I've written for this comic I've included some really fantastic pieces of reader art. The Ghostworld Gallery would always include drawings which were clearly from quite young readers, the ones who would've been the same age as me but some were either by extremely talented youngsters or perhaps by slightly older, possibly teenage readers. Here's another example by a David Round who was obviously a fan of Alan Langford's Skull from the regular fortnightly.


Alan's strips usually finished off each issue of the comic but here the finale of the special, and indeed the series, is drawn by Keith Page. At least, that's what we think so far. Lew Stringer believes it could be and after he suggested Keith I did see similarities with his depictions of the Super Naturals themselves, although Lew doesn't think the animals suit his style, so this credit could change. But for now we'll say it's Keith who brings us Tooth & Claw!

In an unnamed country suffering from a drought the doorways to Ghostworld open and through them comes Skull, Snakebite and the underused Rags in the Bat Bopper and Lionheart, Eagle Eye and Mr. Lucky in the Ghost Finder.


The idea this time is to set the animals on a stampede, the meat eaters hypnotised by Snakebite to devour human flesh and the rest instructed to trample and destroy all that they see. But they haven't reckoned on one simple fact, the third form of the good Super Natural leader, Lionheart!


I have to say it's both fun to see Lionheart actually take to this form and act like an actual lion, fighting off the hypnotised animals (but without killing them we'll assume) and also surprising to think he was never placed into this kind of environment until this final issue. It's the kind of story which would've made for a great multipart serial to delve deeper into his character, but as it stands unfortunately it's all we ever got. The comic was still very much in its early life when it was cancelled so only a few characters from the toy line got any kind of development and Lionheart wasn't one of them. It's like having a teaser of what could have been. Enjoyable but bittersweet.

Just before the Super Naturals signed off there was just time to squeeze in a quick plug for some other Fleetway comics which might have appealed to the young readers. Or rather, I should say it's an advert for Barrie's comics! Who remembers these?


Apart from another poor quiz which is basically a retread of the one from the Adventure Book (asking readers to identify the same characters over and over again) this has been a quite frenetic final chapter in the story of the Super Naturals. It hasn't got that 'horror comic' feel to it like the fortnightly did, but in its own right it's an enjoyable slice of 80s licenced action at its finest.

That's it. That's all folks. That's all they wrote.

There's a chance some unpublished stories not linked to the licence popped up elsewhere after the comic finished and I'll be researching that soon for a possible future post, but as for the Super Naturals this is the end of our regular reviews. The read through is complete. I hope you've enjoyed these as much as I have writing them and reliving this superb and cruelly forgotten comic.


So where does that leave us with Super Naturals and the blog? If you haven't read them all there's 12 reviews altogether and as time goes on there'll be some little extras being added to the comic's page. There may have been no more issues but it'd be wrong to just forget about these characters and have their section of the blog end while the others continue. Finding information on the making of it is proving difficult but it won't deter me, though it may take a while to find someone who can actually remember working on it! But in the meantime I've a couple of other ideas for some extra content.

The first of these will be a closer look at those fascinating toys themselves. Throughout the comic's life we were treated to some marketing photos of the action figures, their holograms perfectly shown off in just the right light. I've shown a few of these along the way but I'm going to collect all of them together in one big post. If the reaction on social media is anything to go by people have very fond memories of either owning these toys or wishing they had! So watch out for a look at the entire range on the blog.

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