British Horror Comics Live Again: Scream! & Misty Halloween Special
Scream! & Misty Halloween Special
Guy Adams, Gráinne McEntee, The Feek, Kek-W, Hannah Berry and Alec Worley (Writers), John Stokers, Frazer Irving, Tristan Jones, Henry Flint, Simon Coleby, Len O’Grady, Ben Willsher and DaNi (Artists), Simon Bowland, SG, Jim Campbell, Annie Parkhouse and Max Smith (Letters)
In its heyday, the British comics industry pumped out anthologies on a weekly basis, filling newsagent shelves with knockabout comedy, daring space adventures, gung-ho war stories, and swoon-inducing romance. And, sometimes, horror.
Of course, popular consciousness still remembered the moral panics that ensued after American horror comics arrived in Britain during the 1950s. Launching a British horror comic in that climate was a bold move, and any such publication would have the odds against its survival. But while they may not have lasted long, at least two of Britain’s horror comics burnt brightly during their short lives.
Misty ran from 1978 to 1980, and functioned as a girl-targeted counterpart to the boy-oriented science fiction title 2000 AD. Its horror content was watered down over time, and the comic eventually merged into its colourful sister title Tammy. But it remains fondly remembered by a generation of readers, some of whom even put together fan-made revival issues in 2006 and 2009. Scream! replaced Misty’s ethereal spookiness with a more overtly macabre approach and had an even shorter lifespan: it ran for just 15 weekly issues during 1985, each of which is prized by today’s collectors. A number of strips from both Misty and Scream! are currently being reprinted as part of the Treasury of British Comics line, a testament to their enduring appeal.
And now, as we approach the spook season of 2017, both titles have returned to the magazine rack for a short while. Scream! & Misty Halloween Special is a one-off anthology in which some familiar faces return for all-new adventures.
“The Thirteenth Floor” (script by Guy Adams, art by John Stokes and Frazer Irving) revisits a Scream! strip about an apartment block controlled by a malicious, HAL-like computer named Max. The new creative team have fun transplanting the original strip’s awfully ’80s science fiction trapping to the modern world of happy slapping and clickbait headlines. Max sends a group of bullies to the hellish Floor 13, where they are set upon by webcam-headed assailants. John Stokes, a UK comics veteran, renders the mundane world in traditional terms; Frazer Irving uses a full-colour digital art to depict Max’s hellscape.
“The Return of the Sentinels” (script by Hannah Berry, art by Ben Willsher) is a sequel to what is perhaps Misty’s best-remembered story. The original revolved around a pair of apartment blocks, one of which was actually an entrance to a parallel world where the Nazis won the war. Hannah Berry’s story establishes that this portal is still in working order, as a purple-haired Millennial heroine from an interracial family ends up on a trip through dystopia where her racist neighbour appears to have become Prime Minister. Although the result of an alternate history, the parallel Britain can also be read as a potential future.
“The Dracula File” (script by Gráinne McEntee, art by Tristan Jones) updates a Scream! strip detailing Count Dracula’s exploits in 1980s Britain. The story establishes that Drac has spent the intervening years wining and dining with London’s high society, only to come a cropper when his Hindu maid turns out to be a vampire hunter. The story starts out by setting up what appears to be a clash between a predatory Thatcherite establishment and a modern, multicultural Britain, but ends up as a straightforward vampire-slaying runaround.
“Death-Man: The Gathering” (script by Feek, art by Henry Flint) stars a relatively recent character, one who made his debut last year in 2000 AD. But joining him is a supporting cast of heroes and villains both old and new, including some plucked from the pages of vintage British comics Thunder, Buster, Speed and Jet. On offer are such weird and wonderful characters as a boy who keeps six tiny humanoid aliens in his pocket, a shapeshifting creature that disguises itself as a goat, a disfigured stunt driver who hides behind a mask, a robot army commando from World War II, and a superhero in a leopard costume. The four-page story has nowhere near enough room to establish them all, but is clearly intended as a preview to a future series.
“Return of Black Max: Blood Moon” (script by Kek-W, art by Simon Coleby) likewise comes across as the introduction to a longer story. Running in Thunder in the 1970s, the original “Black Max” strip was about a World War I German air pilot who menaced his Allied foes with giant mutant bats. The new version in this special reinvents Max as an undead creature, returning from limbo to torment a girl who, it is implied, has psychic powers. The story stands out for having the most accomplished artwork in the issue, although it is a little jarring to see a twenty-first century teacher wearing a mortarboard.
Finally, “Fate of the Fairy Hunter” (script by Alec Worley, art by DaNi) is a self-contained story that fits into the tradition of Misty’s various done-in-one tales. An enjoyable urban fantasy yarn about a heroine saving a children’s author from a resentful sprite, the story benefits greatly from DaNi’s chunky, cartoonish art.
All in all, the Scream! & Misty Halloween Special seems designed for three purposes: first, to provide nostalgia fixes for those who remember the original comics; second, to help promote the reprint editions; and third, to test the water for potential revivals. Taken as a self-contained anthology it is a little hit-or-miss, but taken as part of a wider resurgence for classic British horror comics, it does its job well. It’s definitely worth a look for anyone who believes that there is still life in the old favourites.