Rebellion’s fourth collection of strips from the spooky late 1970s girls weekly comic Misty takes a slightly different approach than its predecessors. Rather than pairing a couple of collected serials, it instead focuses on the work of one artist whose signature style was so fitting to both the Gothic motifs of the comic and to its more human elements. Catalan creator Jordi Badia Romero was a prolific illustrator whose work spanned such supernatural anthologies as DC Thomson’s Spellbound and Warren’s Creepy in the States, alongside the Misty stories collected in this volume. One can only imagine the body of work that could have built up had he not died so young in 1984, still only in his forties.
Misty Presents the Jordi Badia Romero Collection compiles the many complete-in-one stories (think of them as the Misty equivalent of Tharg’s Future Shocks in 2000 AD) Romero illustrated through the comic’s history alongside one short-lived serial – Screaming Point! – that concluded in Misty’s final issue in January 1980. There are no writer credits for the work included here and, admittedly, it’s a variable procession of twist-in-the-tale horror thrillers featuring witches, werewolves, the occult and other eerie antagonists. But this volume is about the visual appeal Romero lends to each tale and a testament to his ability to bring to life even the most hackneyed shorts. There are some (relatively) more sophisticated offerings but a lot of the “done in one” strips, though fun in their own retro way, are largely forgettable in narrative terms.
Some of the stronger entries revolve around that old Misty staple of characters getting their gruesome comeuppances. ‘The Ever-Open Door’ takes us on a tourist trip to Kilstone Castle as an arrogant schoolgirl finds her family history echoing across the centuries with alarming consequences. ‘House of Snails’ has a gloriously EC feel to it as young Sally’s resentment of her father’s attempts to communicate with the gastropod world comes back to haunt her with slimy malevolence. And ‘The Power of Young Melissa’ is a darkly themed account of the perils of crossing someone with the power to bring people back to life.
There are also, however, a number of far less imaginative stories recycling vampire clichés (Dracula makes two appearances herein!), familiar werewolf lore, and even stories evoking Jack the Ripper. Some almost feel like disparate elements thrown together simply to give Romero something randomly cool to draw (check out the short ‘Madhouse’ for an example of that). Screaming Point!, too, is a weaker serial in the Misty pantheon. It follows orphan Lucy Slade who discovers her hangman Uncle Seth is in league with undertaker Jabez Kemp as they experiment to bring the dead back to life. Yet another Misty story to be set in Victorian London, its abrupt wrap-up and just a 7-part run would suggest it was hastily concluded when Misty was merged with sister comic Tammy in 1980.
But whatever weaknesses there are in the writing here can largely be forgotten because this book is a celebration of one man’s artistic vision rather than the complexities (or lack thereof) of its plotting. Printed on paper that best approximates the original newsprint format, it brings out Romero’s powerfully atmospheric use of light and shadow in the black and white pages. Indeed the occasional bursts of colour (Misty was mainly b&w outside of sections like the centre-pages and front and back covers) seem somewhat at odds here, diluting the potency of his brooding monochrome work.
Romero’s panel-to-panel storytelling eschews the ostentatious for a subtler sophistication; elaborately detailed single images, clever shifts in perspective and his ability to connect us to his characters on a primal emotional level through just one gasp of terror or a piercingly mysterious stare. It’s these qualities that elevate occasionally mediocre stories to creative heights they would never have attained.otherwise. Yet another beautifully presented volume from the Treasury of British Comics.
Jordi Badia Romero (W/A) • Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics, £19.99
Review by Andy Oliver