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Corriere dei Piccoli / Corrierino 1993 #32
('Intrigo a Warfield')
by Federica Montanari

Featuring: James, IQ, Tracy, Trevor, Baron von Skarin, Barbella.

Synopsis: A young woman is running towards Warfield Academy, seemingly being chased by somebody and dodging their gunfire. Deciding that she might be safe within the Warfield grounds, she leaps over the wall. Meanwhile, inside, James, Tracy and IQ are in their gladrags, preparing the hall for the big school dance. IQ can't get the chandelier to work, so James goes outside to check if there's a fault with the electrics, when the girl who scaled the wall ploughs into him, knocking him off his feet. As they wrestle on the floor, it appears she thinks he's one of her assailants, until he introduces himself. Realising he is 007's nephew and not her pursuer after all, she apologises, and introduces herself as Alexia, telling James she's working for the British secret service.

Alexia explains she's here to retrieve important documents: plans for a sophisticated system of mind control via genetic mutation, knowledge of which has now leaked to an enemy power - namely, her pursuers. Just outside the grounds, we see who they are - Baron von Skarin and Barbella. Barbella scales the wall with ease, then opens the gate to let in von Skarin, who has used an electronic device to neutralise the alarm system. Nearby, Alexia explains to James that the documents she's seeking are hidden in the dungeons of Warfield. They're surprised by more gunfire, and Alexia once more leaps on James, knocking him to the ground to shield them both from the gunshots. James calls IQ via his watch, asking him and Tracy to meet him at the underground entrance.

IQ and Tracy go to meet James, but Trevor has been spying on them and assumes they're planning some kind of prank for the school dance. Near the entrance to the basement, James introduces Alexia to IQ and Tracy and explains about the documents; Tracy realises they must date from the time that Warfield was a counterintelligence training base. Knowing the dungeons inside out, Tracy takes Alexia downstairs to help her look for the documents, while James and IQ stand guard. James explains to IQ that the mind control system would be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands; the British government, having decided not to use it, thought the plans would be safe buried under Warfield.

Alexia and Tracy quickly return with the microfilm on which the documents are stored, having found them easily - but at this point, Barbella and von Skarin burst in - and Barbella has Trevor in a headlock, as a hostage. Trevor admits he was following the gang to find out they were up to. Crushing him in her iron grip, Barbella says that if they want Trevor to live, they'll hand over the plans. IQ whispers to James that he has a plan, so James kicks Barbella, who releases Trevor in surprise. IQ then attaches something to Barbella's head, which makes her grab Baron von Skarin and start to waltz with him, much to his fury! IQ claims it's a contraption he invented to help him at the dance, which makes you move to the rhythm of the music it plays - his own form of 'mind control'.

Alexia says they need to get the microfilm into government hands, so James tells IQ to get Trevor and Tracy to safety - while he and Alexia head through the secret passage leading onto the beach at the foot of the cliffs. A motorised dinghy is there waiting for them, and they speed off in it; but they're soon pursued by the Baron and Barbella, who once again begin firing at them. As James and Alexia traverse a narrow watercourse through cliffs on either side, the passage becomes almost too narrow to traverse, though they just scrape through. But the Baron and Barbella have taken a shortcut, and appear in front of them.

Alexia finds what she thinks is a flare gun in the dinghy, but when James fires it, so many fish emerge from the water that the Baron's boat can't move. James explains that the device isn't a flare gun, but a gadget IQ invented to attract fish via ultrasound. Back in the Warfield grounds, Alexia thanks the gang for all their help. Tracy says it was a pleasure, but a shame they missed the school dance. However, by way of reward, Alexia invites them all to a party that will be held tomorrow night at Buckingham Palace. Tracy is over the moon, and James jokes that IQ will have to build himself another mind control device so that he can dance with the Queen...

Review: Corrierino's own take on the 'base under siege' theme done so well in the TV episode Hostile Takeover and the Marvel comic Friends Like These certainly captures a similar initial sense of intrigue and excitement, although once the premise is established, the rest of it is relatively pedestrian by comparison. The recovery of the microfilm itself is pretty poor, happening out-of-frame while James delivers a load of exposition to IQ; its threat to the world is only very vaguely defined, with no real demonstration of what SCUM could achieve with it; and the boat chase ends up being a bit of an anticlimax (see lows). There's also a lot of expectation set up with James and Alexia, who land up in close quarters on top of each other twice within the opening pages - James flirts shamelessly while tussling with Alexia before introductions are made, and even suggests that jumping on him is her 'vice' when it happens the second time - but the chemistry established quickly fizzles away to nothing, and the Alexia/Tracy warfare over James's affections that we might expect doesn't transpire at all, with Tracy only too eager to help the newcomer. Even Trevor's role follows the same pattern; it's always fun to see him crop up in the comics and here it initially appears he'll be central as Barbella sets her sights on him, but again it all too swiftly comes to naught. On the other hand, Barbella and von Skarin make for a fresh and interesting villainous pair, and seeing them forced to dance with one another is quite amusing despite the silliness of IQ's device.

Highs: Despite not delivering on the 'homefront' factor quite as well as the other stories named, it is nonetheless always enjoyable to see instalments set in and around Warfield for their rarity in the franchise as much as anything - and this one expands on the geography of the area somewhat, as we traverse by boat the cliffs on which the school sits. We also see more of the school's interior, such as the hall where the dance is taking place, and a rare view of the academy from above in one frame; and the dungeons (possibly better translated as 'basement') are tantalisingly discussed as the location of the microfilm, albeit we don't actually see them, as it's recovered by Tracy and Alexia while we stay with James. The secret passage also makes a rare appearance, although it's not clear in this case that it's accessed via Milbanks' office.

Lows: We weren't bowled over by the gadgets of the week (see 'below'); IQ's auto-dance gizmo is seemingly introduced to draw a parallel with the mind control device Barbella and the Baron are after, but ends up rather trivialising the idea; while the silliness with the fish and the boat is a particularly implausible deus ex machina, albeit undoubtedly an original one.

Gadgets & Gizmos: IQ's latest star gadget is a device which emits waltz music and, when strapped to one's head, causes one to dance in time with it; he was planning to use it to look good at the school dance. He's also created an ultrasonic fish caller which can summon fish in such ridiculous numbers that they can stop a boat dead in its path. For his part, Baron von Skarin has a handy gizmo that neutralises the Warfield alarm system.

SCUM on the Surface: It's perhaps surprising that SCUM isn't directly mentioned here given the nature of the plot, although given von Skarin and Barbella are both well established members, it perhaps wasn't deemed necessary to bring it up.

Loco Parenthesis: Warfield's gates are usually manned pretty tightly by security guards, but they all seem to be AWOL today, with only an automated alarm system protecting the school, which is easily overcome.

Notes: IQ would showcase a similar ultrasonic fish caller in The Treasure of Pirate Lafitte, although on that occasion it only succeeds in scaring away snakes, not attracting fish.

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