An autumnal visit from horror hosts Misty and Ghastly McNasty has become something of a Rebellion tradition in recent years. The 2020 Misty & Scream! Special (perfect for Halloween reading) puts the content emphasis on Misty, the late ‘70s/early ‘80s supernatural serial comic for girls, with some sidesteps into Scream! territory. One of Rebellion’s more popular forays into the vast catalogue of classic British comics characters they acquired a few years ago, this year’s edition also gives a number of emerging stars on the UK comics scene some spotlight time.
If you’re a longer-term Broken Frontier reader then there are a number of names here you will recognise from our ‘Small Pressganged’ column over the years. Kristyna Baczynski (Retrograde Orbit) and Mary Safro (Drugs & Wires) team up on ‘The Aegis’, a short school-set story of a fractious theatrical production. Baczynski’s story echoes the twist ending mischievousness of those complete-in-one entries that used to run in the original Misty weekly (as seen in the recent Misty Presents the Jordi Badia Romero Collection) but with a distinctly contemporary turn. I first met Mary Safro several years ago when I did a portfolio review for her at the ELCAF festival and her clean cartooning style is a perfect fit here – jaunty and engaging but also capturing an underlying darkness to events.
Olivia Hicks (whose Sarararara: All American Girl I reviewed here at BF a couple of years back) returns to the Rebellion fold with artist John Lucas on ‘Bumps in the Night’, proof positive that despite its over-exploitation over the years the creepy clown horror standard still has plenty of scope to unsettle and disturb, with Lucas providing some grotesque, nightmare-fuelling imagery for the coulrophobics.
The lead strip, though, is undoubtedly the strongest offering in the entire comic. Maura McHugh’s tale ‘Thief of Senses’ is a disquieting affair depicting a malevolent supernatural force terrorising a late 19th century Victorian family’s lives but it’s Robin Henley’s visuals that are the standout contribution to this Special. Their moody clarity and oppressive use of black backgrounds ramping up the tension of McHugh’s story to the nth degree.
‘Thief of Senses’ by Maura McHugh, Robin Henley and Annie Parkhouse
As is to be expected there are also a number of returns for characters from the old Fleetway/IPC vaults. Alec Worley and DaNi (surely one of the most notable rising stars in genre comics right now) return to the world of obscure sword and sorcery character Black Beth (check out Worley’s own blog for more on her back story here) in a brooding and atmospheric 8-pager with folkloric overtones.
Cavan Scott and Vincenzo Riccardi provide a coda to The Dracula File from Scream! (recently reprinted as a softcover but you can read our review of the hardback collection here) as the vampire lord’s KGB pursuer Colonel Stakis from the original strip has his final confrontation with his quarry after nearly four decades. Riccardi’s visceral art has a quality that is both fluid and yet sinuous. It’s very different from original series artist Eric Bradbury’s approach but feels most fitting for a 2020 audience.
‘The Aegis’ by Kristyna Baczynski and Mary Safro
Finally, there’s another return for the horror/war mash-up strip Black Max which was neither a Scream! nor a Misty feature but instead appeared in Thunder and Lion in the early ‘70s. Writer Kek-W has done a sterling job in re-imagining this character’s legacy for the 21st century and Simon Coleby’s art has a dynamic intensity throughout. It’s still a mystery why this feature wasn’t scheduled for the weekly pages of 2000 AD though as its sporadic episodic appearances in Specials since 2017 ensures a lack of accessibility to casual readers and a loss of narrative impact for those invested in it.
‘The Dracula File’ by Cavan Scott, Vincenzo Riccardi and Simon Bowland
That, of course, remains the essential challenge that Rebellion continue to have with these Specials. As I say pretty much every time I review one of them it’s a fine line to balance between making them appeal to newbies finding them on the shelves of WHSmith and the committed fans wanting a nostalgia fest, and some volumes have been far more successful than others in that regard. Regardless of that however, one thing that needs to be singled out for praise is the way in which Rebellion have recently been using these one-shots to give voices from the UK-based indie comics scene a chance to reach new audiences. It gives me hope that one day we’ll see the likes of Gustaffo Vargas, Lucy Sullivan, Anna Readman, Tal Brosh or Cat Sims on a Rebellion strip…
Maura McHugh, Kristyna Baczynski, Olivia Hicks, Alec Worley, Kek-W, Cavan Scott (W), Robin Henley, Mary Safro, John Lucas, DaNi, Simon Coleby, Vincenzo Riccardi (A), Gary Caldwell, Len O’Grady (C), Annie Parkhouse, Oz Osborne, Simon Bowland, Jim Campbell (L) • Rebellion, £4.99 (print)/$3.99 (digital)
Review by Andy Oliver