Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New comic review: Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #721 (IDW, July 2015)

July 2nd, 2015: The Phantom Blot commanded the spotlight on the covers of not one but two comics released on this date! (I already covered the other one, Mickey Mouse #311, here.) I'm not sure if this was completely unprecedented in the history of American Disney comics, but it seems to me a pretty good wager.

Between Dave Alvarez' suave, flamboyant, slick take on the Blot fronting MM #311 and Jonathan Gray's more ominous, wraith-like Blot expressionlessly, (presumably) silently beckoning us within WDC&S #721, we have two markedly distinct Blot "essences", both of which, I'd argue, are rooted in the original Gottfredson story.


...but, wait, we haven't even touched on the rest of Gray's cover! The Blot centerpiece separates A) a busy, crowded, detailed, fiery, breathtaking, monumental, mysticism-tinged illustration featuring Mickey, Goofy and the ol' gang, from B) a rendering -- with much those same qualities -- of Donald and Scrooge in the company of their gang. (You have to squint to see both of these panoramas, though, as this cover is anything if not crammed!) Ah, well, surely, the deal here must be that the cover is giving equal space to this issue's duck story and its mouse story, right? And perhaps the Blot is the villain in both (as unusual as that would be for a duck story), hence how he's positioned at the axis point between them!

...NOPE! If you're reading this, I' going to assume that you're at least as up to speed on the subject as I am, if not more so (which, especially if you're from Europe, you may be). "Long a Disney classic in Italy" per David Gerstein's July Crosstalk, and a veritable "legendary Disney epic" per IDW's soliciting, the twelve-chapter "Search for the Zodiac Stone", originally serialized in Topolino from January to March 1990 (remember, they get twelve issues for twelve weeks), from what I gather, has quite the rep in certain circles for being an epic mouse-duck crossover that spans the furthest reaches of space and time. And as a Disney comic fan who can hold my own in a discussion about the vast sociological and philosophical truths encapsulated in the subtle craftsmanship of any given Barks 10-pager but who has secretly (okay, at certain points in my fandom record, not so secretly) always fantasized about the Disney duck-mouse comic book universe's own version of Crisis on Infinite Earths, my fanboy id is totally psyched for this story. (Though perhaps it'd be better likened to a Rocky and Bullwinkle serial, which wouldn't be a bad thing!)

The first installment is wholly functional and adequate insofar as setting the stage and getting the ball rolling. (And there are no ducks or Blot present; Gray's cover is looking ahead.) The opening, though it overtly expresses "epic", "cosmic" ambitions (unorthodoxically and boldly joining Mickey and Goofy on an already underway and [nearly] completed time travel mission; establishing a centuries-old secret society-based conspiracy that aspiring Illuminati-themed YouTube documentary filmmakers wish they had mere scraps of source material on) plays out quite procedurally and literally. The dry, step-by-step, linear progression of the detective narrative that ensues, from identifying two Zodiac Society descendants through to figuring out the real function of one of the brothers' seemingly superstitious, eccentric "good luck" rituals (...and like we didn't know that outdoor fish tank and the butler's description of his master's coin-tossing routine were brought up for a reason!) hasn't exactly left me waiting with bated breath for the next installment... but I'm actually far more of an idealist than I am a cynic, so I'm still eagerly looking forward to the remaining vast bulk (11/12ths!) of this story that's barely gotten underway. I'm in no position to talk about its craft, but from what I do know, the next 11 issues are going to be fun, especially in the trustworthy hands of Gray, Gerstein, et al. In fact, whether or not the story lives up to its "rep", under their stewardship, I am already completely confident that it is worthy enough of the Walt Disney's Comics and Stories legacy so as to absorb a year's worth of issues.

(I'm just hoping that if the serial really does stick to a "one-Zodiac-Stone-fragment-per-chapter formula, that each installment is individually strong enough to make up for such a skeletal framework.)

The afore-cited July Crosstalk promises that for the duration of its run, "Zodiac Stone" won't be it for WDC&S and that there will be room for material in the "classics" vein. As proof, #721 delivers a Walt Kelly Gremlins gag, a 1933 Silly Symphonies Sunday starring Bucky Bug at his most quaintly charming (and I mean that), and best of all, a new-to-the-U.S. 1982 Jippes-Milton-Verhagen Donald Duck 10-pager with razor-pointed art that befits all of the pain and suffering that poor Donald endures throughout, but also befits the sting his nemeses feel and the acidity with which he beams when, in the end, he comes out on top.

-- Ryan

Monday, August 31, 2015

New comic review: Mickey Mouse #311 (IDW, July 2015)

When a few months ago I first saw Dave Alvarez' delicious, delectable cover prominently displaying the Phantom Blot in all his glory, Mickey Mouse #311 immediately became one of my most eagerly anticipated of the issues of IDW's first summer of Disney.


For a 33-page story, which is on the long side by Disney comics standards, it's surprising how little of a plot there is to it: the primary conflict is Mickey's altered (in fact, enhanced, but in a way that often seems more like a hindrance) hearing. Though his condition is caused at the story's beginning during a scuffle with the Blot, it's by complete accident, not at all intended by the "black-cloaked blaggard". (Kudos, Torcivia!) Later, the Blot takes advantage of the situation, making things hairier for Mickey... but by not showing what the Blot is doing and how, and the ambiguity about whether or not any of it is in fact the Blot's doing, holding off on the big reveal -- via a gloating Blot soliloquy that precipitates the hero and villain's final showdown -- makes the story read confusingly and disjointedly. The specs of said soliloquy of revelation illustrate a scheme contrived and cobbled together on a "winging it" level never before attained (or stooped down to?) by the Blot. There's so little to it, the story doesn't even ever build to that much of a climax; Mickey just all of the sudden puts everything together and we make a clean break in cutting right to the aforementioned final showdown. The way that Mickey surprises the Blot by nonchalantly strutting into his hideout as he delivers his aforementioned soliloquy is funny, but Mickey's explanation as to how he seemingly magically found the hideout is another one of the story's forced, head-scratching-inducing shortcuts that you kind of have to just put out of mind to go on reading.

All that said, I actually like the story(!) After all, hey, it's the Phantom Blot! Thanks in large part to Cavazzano, the story is a whole lot of fun, with the hyperactivity of his art engendering a bold, sweeping dynamics and the illusion of rapid pacing. Also, I'm getting to really like Cavazzano's Mickey, drawn with certain quirks and details that make him one of the most attractive pupil-eyed Mickeys I've ever seen. The deftness of Cavazzano's dazzling dynamics especially enhance the bookend pair of Mickey-Blot slug-fests, which are presented as archetypal confrontations between our staunch detective hero and his most formidable arch-nemesis. The laboratory setting of the first battle and especially the clock tower setting of the one at the climax take things over the top aesthetically, really playing up the whole arch-villain thing. I've taken issue in the past with how all non-Gottfredson takes on the Blot have forgotten that he was a foreign spy with a very specific mission and cast him as an all-purpose super-villain, but as I'm several decades too late with that complaint, showing him without the hood through the whole story and playing up his penchant for disguises (besides his usual one, that is) and for building things (it's not just death traps anymore!) is a good consolation prize. Torcivia's several references to the death traps sweeten the deal, too. 

Like the original Blot story, this one is heavy on Mickey working with Chief O'Hara, much to the (though he won't admit it) envy of Detective Casey, story choices that to me go a long way in creating the "feel" of a Phantom Blot story. Casey's reassignment to traffic cop is a legitimately funny new spin on his comic relief role in the original, where, repeatedly, his bravado only made the embarrassment of his bungling all the worse. Casey's hooting and hollering over Mickey and the Blot's brawl brought to mind Sgt. Bullock's emphatic ravings as he witnessed Azrael-as-Batman take down Bane in the "Knightfall" story line. This brought me a certain satisfaction, as I've always considered that as Bullock is to Gordon, Casey is to O'Hara, and I've always considered Gottfredson's original Blot story the closest a Mickey Mouse story ever got to being a Batman story.

With these characterizations (the Blot, O'Hara, Casey) and with the emphasis on Mickey's friendships with "the ol' gang", writer Bruno Enna plays into and with the audience's familiarity with the respective cast, playing a fresh, new variation of an old song, so to speak. Though the Mickey denunciations that Mickey himself overhears -- that are in fact faked by the Blot -- have the story for a few seconds approaching (sort of inverted) It's a Wonderful Life territory, the "quintessential" characterizations give the story a sort of This Is Your Life "tour" feel akin to "A Little Something Special" (but although "Sound-Blot Plot" is special, it's not quite that special). In the plot's casual coincidences and the atypical story momentum that comes from Mickey just trying to have a normal day, except weird things are happening to him, and as they appear incidental rather than the result of a scheme or (if you will) plot (in fact, they are in part incidental),, for a good while there's no particular goal or objective driving the narrative; it reflects Mickey's confusion, and that's not bad writing; it's wildly appropriate. There's actually a certain kind of quasi-realism (kind of like with "The Duckburg 100", now that I think of it), with Mickey and his pals feeling like they have one or two more added dimensions just because we see them in something (weirdly) resembling "real time".

Goofy's sweetness was a nice touch, and his harmless but eccentric "hoarder"-esque habits was a fresh take. (In fact, with his bird fostering and silent, mimed communication that he prolongs much longer than Mickey needed, he actually comes off as lighter version of Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia!) His intervention at the climax was perfectly timed, as well as both funny and touching.

Once again, the backup features satisfy one's "classic rarities" needs: another Walsh-Gonzalez Sunday featuring Ellsworth, and a crude but historically interesting British gag from the early '30's(!) in which Mickey performs physical comedy that back in the States, via Gottfredson, he was already well evolved beyond (for which I'm grateful).

-- Ryan

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Aladdin (the TV series) 20th anniversary -- Episode 19: "Sneeze the Day" (9/24/94)



It's easy to imagine that Motz and Roth came up with this episode during a "Hmm, what can we do with Genie?" writers' meeting during which their train of thought led them start to musing about how a genie "works" (physiologically, biologically, the quirks of their powers, etc.), somewhere along the line positing, "Do genies get sick? If so, what's it like?" In fact, it's logical to suspect my favorite line of the episode -- "Wait, is a hundred years a long time to you guys or not? Oh, I keep forgetting!" -- just may have been a byproduct of such a brainstorming session. Also, said line is a prime example of what distinguishes this episode: Genie's fantastical nature is given precedence over his default role as comic relief.

A good few minutes' worth of screen time is given to depictions of Genie's symptoms. In the sequence preceding Aladdin's search for the Orb of Machina, when we're first shown the guava juice-afflicted Genie, the assorted items -- a kitten, a set of false teeth, several swords flung through the air with their tips aimed at Aladdin -- that Genie's sneezes produce against his will and without premeditation individually aren't particularly imaginative or funny, but looking at the big picture, the random, non sequitur nature of this barrage of sight gags assures a silly, whimsical, energized episode. Moreover, the items and costumes generated are easy to imagine being used appropriately by Genie in good health, so his power going awry in this way is a very clever, fitting answer to the "If genies get sick, what happens?" question.


Aladdin's near-miss with the sword signifies that Genie's symptoms have turned perilous and prompts the story thread of Genie bemoaning the danger that he now poses to his friends. To reinforce that the swords weren't an isolated incident, the moment Al's survived the sword attack, Genie's next sneeze incites the launch of a rocket missile that carries Abu off into the stratosphere, a bit that is amusing in its elaborate, step-by-step execution. Later, just before Aladdin finally acquires the orb, we cut back to the palace, where we're shown that Genie's illness hasn't let up if not worsened, given the vile two-headed, fire-breathing serpentine atrocity preying on Abu -- which, though basic in design,is at least more original than a more standard dragon would have been. And insofar as reminding us of the problem Aladdin's trying to solve, it does the trick.


More impressive is the panning wide shot that opens the final act, efficiently establishing the substantial, imposing mountain of assorted objects and major structures in the middle of the desert, relating the severe degree to which Genie's condition has escalated in a way that's visually staggering. Additionally, these scene-setting sights are the last step in the gradual buildup to the most extensive, most calamitous manifestation of Genie's symptoms (and presumably, things would have only gotten worse yet had Aladdin not showed up with the orb): the apocalyptic abrupt generating of two old "friends", the Sultan of the Al-Muddi and Fashoom, along with a mobile contraption of Mechanicles from "Getting the Bugs Out" here increased (ballparking it) twenty times or more in size, so as to stand on par with the two monsters (indicating that these are replications, not the real deal).



As predictable as are both the "[*sniff*] My very existence threatens my friends' very lives -- as much as it pains me, I must isolate myself somewhere far, far away from them and anyone else!!!" characterization and [*coughahemcough*] the deus ex machina of the arrival of the orb, it's nice to see an episode in which Genie has his own character arc, not to mention in which he's characterized in any way at all. It's especially satisfying that Genie gets to be the hero at the end (I guess he was able to single-handedly defeat all three beasts in one fell swoop when previously, he proved helpless against each individually presumably because here, he conceived them involuntarily, as I speculated above), when I honestly wouldn't have been too surprised if Aladdin had gotten to be the one who thwarted them even after Genie were cured by the orb. 

Ah, and that brings me to the matter of said object of magic: Aladdin, Iago, and Carpet's adventure in Machina's cave is practically an episode-within-the-episode. They could have gone to, say, the moon to fight and defeat, say, an evil wizard in order to obtain the orb, and the rest of the episode would be no different. The cave sequence takes up approximately an entire third of the episode and pretty much completely sidetracks it, existing only to facilitate Aladdin bringing Genie the orb at what's the exact right moment, as necessitated by the story. As I've already alluded to, Motz and Roth acknowledged the function of the cave scene and its outcome with the name of the orb's guardian... and I'll leave their little in-joke for you to either pick up on or not yourself!





Had Motz and Roth gone through the motions with the cave scene with a couple action-based set pieces (a collapsing bridge over a bottomless pit, a cave-in, a runaway boulder, etc.), as such a substantive and distinct segment, it would be very, very damaging to the episode as a whole. However, the predominance of witty verbal sparring and the "punny" riddles and trick questions that serve as the three obstacles between Al and the orb spice up the proceedings considerably. ("I was expecting something a bit more dangerous, like, like fighting a dragon or something!" Aladdin exclaims -- yet another wink-and-nod to those of us paying acute attention.) The ironic revelation of Machina's true identity (recalling Motz and Roth's nebbish worm from the previous episode who turned out to be behind the thundering voice in the Witches of the Sand's lair) puts the comedy-preferring orientation of this adventure in italics, and an exclamation point is added by the sequence's gag-based coda -- a grumbling, griping Machina getting a replacement orb from his warehouse with a seemingly endless supply of them) -- which feels an awful lot like an episode-capping bit. As isolated as the cave sequence is from the rest of the episode, the episode steadily retains its flavor of smartly, sharply written comedy. (Also, I'm no expert, but with Machina's irate nature and his "chirpy", dandy-ish voice and speech patterns, would I be correct in suspecting a homage to something in Monty Python?)


There are consistent factors visually, too: 1. The squash-and-stretch animation, which like in most episodes where it's used, offers the eye numerous delights and the occasional awkward, rushed-seeming pose -- and is generally befitting of a Genie episode, given the character's nature as sort of a cosmic-powered Roger Rabbit. 2. Just like Genie's "mountains" of unwanted objects and that of the vengeful trio of Gargantuas, Machina, in his three false guises, is very impressive and imposing in scope. Although the sleek, stark, more modern and hip design style used for these visages and the atmospheric backgrounds aren't comparable to anything in the Agrabah and desert sequences (except maybe perhaps Mechanicles' contraption, which in its enhanced size, appears more slender and angular), it still counts as one of those aspects of the tangential cave sequence that make it so strong in its own right, the episode's disjointed structure just doesn't matter. Motz and Roth are right to have been so confident in their plot shortcuts, loose stitching, and cliché of a character arc as to include the grinning aforementioned in-jokes, for the episode holds together in exceptionally well and is thoroughly entertaining. In other words, they're doing things that a bad writer would do, but by embracing and owning these things, playing them off so nonchalantly, they "flip" these pitfalls and turn out something that's actually good. Perhaps because they're good writers, they are only capable of doing bad by doing it good? 


Iago being used as a the source of exposition re: the Orb of Machina, recollected from his days of "Jafar always dragging [Iago] around looking for some magical thing or other", is a great touch, logically taking into account his past and easily evoking the Jafar we remember. Characterization-wise, his reluctance to share this information, as he fears getting roped into the quest for the orb, and his inevitable one-liners of grief and misery once he has indeed been roped into said journey, are dead-on.


Lastly, circling back to the episode's beginning, it was nice to briefly see Amin Damoola again, in all his rubber-limbed, ill-fortuned, unmerited confidence-displaying glory. His butt-of-all-jokes, slapstick-facilitating qualities promise a comedic episode -- which proves true, even though he's only seen in the first couple minutes. The purpose of his altercation with the palace guards is to have Genie incidentally get infected during the fracas. This elaborate, ultimately irrelevant way of getting the plot moving is worthy of some of The Simpsons' infamous epic, excessive, extraneous setups. And in existing just for fun,

Genie Watch: ...HEY!!! I've covered that with more than two-thirds of what I've already written, haven't I? That better be good enough for you! Sheesh! ;)

-- Ryan

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New comic review: Mickey Mouse #1 (#310) (IDW, June 2015)

I didn’t realize that Casty had started only writing and not drawing some of his stories. Is that for scheduling reasons? Or because as he envisioned this story, it was in Cavazzano’s style? And either way, does it mean that a story he doesn’t both write and draw isn’t as much his baby?

However, he did draw the cover:


With the ducks, especially with Scrooge’s treasure-hunting inclinations, there’s usually a logical reason related to the innate nature of their character(s) that they wind up on the adventures that they do. Even with Donald’s everyman nature, the plot m.o. can be his drive to prove himself. That’s not to say that even Barks didn’t contrive reasons why Donald and the nephews, sans Scrooge, would find themselves in life-threatening predicaments on the other side of the world. But it’s really Mickey, not Donald, with whom more than once, I’ve stopped and wondered, “Hey, just HOW has he had all those adventures, anyway?” (In the stories in which he’s not acting in his quasi-established role of a private investigator. Actually, I’m not even sure if he considers himself one, or if he just is always helping Chief O’Hara out as a friend.)


The real hero of “The Lost Explorers’ Trail” is Eurasia Toft. By all rights, it’s her story: it’s the pride, passion, and skill with which she takes up being the heir to her father’s legacy that drive the narrative. Mickey and Goofy are just along for the ride. Casty tacitly acknowledges this fact with M&G's very reason for accompanying Eurasia (they want to see how things turn out, as if they’re the reader), and how they become privy to the situation in the first place: a letter meant for Professor Toft is mistakenly delivered to Mickey’s address. It’s to Casty’s credit that I didn’t really notice this the first time through. Their enthusiasm for and earnest curiosity for the mission sells this case of tentative plot logic, which is then reinforced proactive initiative Mickey and Goofy take in a least getting through the adventure, even if they don't really have an impact on much of what happens. More often than not, Eurasia takes the lead...


...but Mickey and Goofy prove worthy partners in her adventure, weathering its perils just as well:


Arguably, Goofy is more extraneous than Mickey, but the opening “pancake contest” scene establishes a joined-at-the-hip “bosom buddies” camaraderie that continues to be exhibited throughout the story, distinguishing it from all those stories where Goofy is pretty much just there. I like Casty’s take on him here: while he’s aware of what’s going on and as and fully engaged as Mickey. See how they're equally at rapt attention here:


Or how Goof correctly notices something important BEFORE Mickey does:


But of course, when someone screws up, it's inevitably going to be Goofy... innocently enough:


I’m not sure what to make of Eurasia, really. My knee-jerk reaction is that I’m not too keen on the employment the “nebbish librarian type who takes off her glasses and is suddenly an ass-kicking hot chick” cliché. (I’m taking it that her mom was a mouse, as her dad isn’t? Hey, I guess what proves that she’s a major character is that she has a Mickey/Minnie-style head, despite her taller height and creepy humanoid body.) In fact, all of the incidental characters in her orbit and the “part” each plays feel very familiar. There's her “jolly”, affable, intellectual, accomplished, now retired father, Pangea, who because of his pure, boundless love for his field, cannot truly forget the mystery he left unsolved and his missing friends. But he has great pride in his daughter, the bona fide apple-of-his-eye, and sees in her hope to finish what he couldn't. Then there's Pangea's equally spirited and insatiably curious adventure chums of academia. And finally, there's their corrupt, backstabbing, deceitful former peer. Even the way the secret valley’s biggest secret turns out to be able to cure Pangea's rheumatism, actually.  I’m not saying this familiarity is a bad thing – I’m just observing it. It’s worth noting, though, that when I lay all that out, it becomes apparent that this is more of a Eurasia Toft story than a Mickey Mouse story, eh? 

...look, they even KNOW it!


Regardless, it IS a Mickey Mouse story in that it was intended and produced as one, and, hey, having adventures is what Mickey does in comics, so the writers have to come up with reasons for him to have new ones, right? As archetypal as the new and/or incidental characters might be, Casty defines them with acute clarity and tells their story with airtight plotting. It struck me as unusually, almost realistically dark for a Disney comic how insidious the villain actually is, in having appeared to be an upstanding citizen but having actually left his friends for dead decades earlier. As fatal as most Disney comic villains’ intentions might be, the effects of their ill actions are usually attempted and thwarted in a linear span of time contained within one story.


As reflected in (in addition to the almost trans-Mickey plot and trans-Mickey cast) Cavazzano’s (literally) edgy, feisty, "zinging" art and the modern slang used by dialogue scribe Jonathan Gray, this is neither Gottfredson’s nor Murry’s Mickey, no. Nonetheless, it IS a modern incarnation of and in the Mickey Mouse adventure comic tradition that doesn’t betray the character or the genre. And that should be commended and celebrated.
_______________

And for those inclined, the Mickey Mouse comics tradition can be celebrated with this issue’s backup features: a quintessential Don Christensen-Paul Murry 1953 Pluto story (replete with narrative/commentary captions) and two Bill Walsh-Manuel Gonzalez Mickey Mouse Sundays featuring Ellsworth, including his very first appearance. I’ve written before of how from my limited exposure to the character, I wasn’t sure who or what he was ever even intended to be. But now, at last, I know Ellsworth for the smart-aleck prankster that he is. Kudos on your editorial choices, Mr. Gerstein. Ellsworth is now squarely established for further IDW appearances.



-- Ryan

New comic review: Donald Duck #2 (#369) (IDW, June 2015)

As it turns out, my prediction that “Shellfish Motives” Part Two would open with Donald and the nephews “being captured and thus having to work together” was completely wrong. And I couldn’t be happier, as Scarpa’s well-constructed, relatively complex, quasi-satirical* mystery story, while retaining the cloak-and-dagger flavor of the first installment, is much better than the action-adventure (with emphasis on the action) fare that I had envisioned.

* (I say "quasi-satirical" because, as with the social aspects of "The Duckburg 100", "Shellfish" is rife with political and diplomatic trappings which are played in a comical, spoofy way, but I wouldn't say that anything in particular is being targeted. I suppose, though, that a treatise could be written on what the Gourmandian professor's "going off the grid" maneuver says about the use of new science as leverage in high-level warring corpora-government combine power plays.)


If I would object to anything (and this is a tentative, not full-fledged objection), it would be the characterization of Donald as COMPLETELY clueless and wrongheaded, and the nephews so ENTIRELY superior to him in every respect. I like that Scarpa plays up the nephews’ resourcefulness and sharp wits, and while in essence it’s not out of character (to say the least) for Donald to be overconfident in his abilities and proceed with a task wrongheadedly, as in “Duckburg 100”, Scarpa presents a dumbed-down, practically infantile Donald. That said, Donald's attempted interviews with the different scientists (whose reactions vary from put off and annoyed to obvlious to Donald's presence) -- a string of encounters that's juxtaposed against the nephews staying on the right track in THEIR investigation -- are endearingly fun and funny, sort of with an (especially silly) Looney Tunes blackout gag flavor. Still, with Donald taking up Gideon on his job offer at the story's beginning, I felt that Donald was stepping across the threshold on a Hero's Journey... and yet after all is said and done, it seems that we're supposed to take the idea of him ever being a successful investigative reporter as a joke. It's safe to say that this is decidedly NOT a "mastery story".


From the parachute left in the taxicab down through the parsing out of the address where they find the professor, Scarpa’s plotting of the mystery-unraveling is admirable in its logic and its gradual, suspense-sustaining pacing. From the clues dropped throughout the story, I imagine that very few readers would ever discern “the full story” before all is told at the end – certain points (like the fact that the professor probably isn’t really also a chef) were suspected as highly likely, but would anyone have ever guessed that the professor already had his own candy in his pockets of the same type he was buying in the store? While the facts of the case when explained in full at the end are straightforward enough, the complexity is in how Scarpa, at first keeping this scenario near-completely concealed from the reader, lays down the narrative scheme in which the nephews, piece by piece, solve the case.



I had hoped that if the mysterious figure in Part One was indeed Scrooge -- as there there were telltale signs that it was -- then it would turn out that once we knew the whole deal, we would understand how and why we had been misled to believe that he was up to some villainy... and to my satisfaction, such exoneration panned out 100%. Naturally, the “full disclosure”, as relayed by the nephews, includes exposing Scrooge’s role, bringing him “on-screen”. What ensues nicely ties in a theme established at the beginning of the story: the rift between Scrooge and Gideon due to their opposing values and ambitions. I expressed in my review of Part One that I thought the character of Gideon and his relationship to Scrooge were good ideas, and seeing the fireworks that erupt when they actually interact really brings it home. (A familial divide so good, it’s almost like having another Donald-Gladstone rivalry.) Jonathan Gray’s dialogue in this sequence, which plays up that they’re both McDucks and have some fundamental similarities, fine-tunes and sharpens the McDuckian purity of this visceral exchange.


_______________

Closing out Donald #369 is a vintage treat, "Counter Spy", which at first glance, I figured was one of Al Taliaferro's gag-based "loose" continuities... but, nope, it was created exclusively for a 1947 Cheerios giveaway. Reformatted here for a standard-sized comic at three tiers per page, it comes out to (drumroll to build suspense) exactly 10 pages, a wildly appropriate number considering that the story consists of Donald waging suburban warfare against his next-door neighbor... in fact, against TWO next-door neighbors, the first of whom in fact is actually named (ahem) JONES, but unlike Barks' Jones, has a line in the sand for what he'll put up with and cares not to play into Donald's one-upmanship; the second of whom is eerily reminiscent of Barks' Herman the Hermit, and is just about as antisocial and curtly impolite, despite his actually bothering to take up residence in civilization.

Though the general proceedings and in particular the twist at the end that brings about Donald's comeuppance have Barksian shades, the crude characterization of Donald and the nephews (who seem to act pretty much as one here, which in itself is un-Barksian) -- first getting their jollies from harassing Taliaferro's "Jones", then invading his successor's life with their gossip-inclined nosiness and physical appearance-based suspiciousness -- aren't countered by any Barksian gravitas.



But let's take a step back. If how a non-Barksian Dell-era duck story measures up to Barks were the measure by which something's of interest or worthwhile, then virtually nothing would make the cut. On its own merits, this is a decently written and certainly well-drawn escapist, slapsticky funny animal comic quick read. So far, IDW's Disney comics have been dominated by European material. But turning a different leaf, this story's inclusion in Donald #369 follows in the tradition begun by Gladstone of select vintage/classic Golden Age/Dell-era American Disney comic reprints. Of course, Gladstone II gave us reprints of their own reprints of just a couple years earlier, as with "Back to the Klondike" and "Monarch of Medioka", amongst numerous examples, demonstrating what NOT to do. By contrast, this is the very first time "Counter Spy" has (at least per Inducks) has been reprinted in the U.S. since its original 1947 publication, exemplifying exactly what TO do.

-- Ryan

Saturday, July 11, 2015

New comic review: Uncle Scrooge #3 (#407) (IDW, June 2015)

IDWs Marco Rota "A" cover for Uncle Scrooge #407, which originally graced an Italian 2008 reprint of the 1961 Romano Scarpa story that Scrooge #407 presents using Joe Torcivia's newly-Americanized title "The Duckburg 100":


In contrast with his other stories presented by IDW thus far, Scarpa's "The Duckburg 100" is a relatively humble, down-to-earth, domestic, Duckburg-based story. Almost a pure character piece, its lack of big set pieces shouldn't be mistaken for a lackluster read -- its execution is more complex than the premise might suggest. (The most "adventurous" thing that happens is a Beagle Boy robbery during which they accidentally kidnap Donald, and it's mostly played for laughs: the Beagles are just doing what they can't help themselves from doing, and Donald's stumbled into quite a jam, ho-ho!) While the hook -- the bank's contest -- is frankly dry, to the point that it can only be relayed via dialogue, the closest to a  visual representation being promotional posters that Scrooge is pleased to see as he nears the bank... really, just more text! In many modern duck and mouse comics, the MacGuffin is something visual and wacky, which can make a story seem contrived and gimmicky. "100"'s more conscientious (and real-world plausible) situational (rather than conceptual, i.e. gimmicky) premise triggers reactions and an ensuing series of event that make Duckburg more believable than usual. Of course, this illusion hinges upon Scarpa's grasp of these characters, which here is wildly apparent. The end result is a quasi-social satire that isn't acidic and vitriolic, but certainly acute.


It's completely logical and in-character for Scrooge to be anxious to the point of obsession, allowing Scarpa to show us -- and amuse us with -- Scrooge in one of his panicked, skittish, somewhat neurotic modes. But Scarpa's Scrooge, like Barks', has varied moods, and so once he's processed the situation, Scrooge quickly turns energized, driven, and determined in taking efforts to ensure that the three contestants each a prove winning bet (on his end of the deal, of course). To pull off such a drastic transition in temperament as part of staggering a character's reaction to a plot development, keeping the character so true to what makes him tick, is testimony to Scarpa's talent and intuition. And I've almost overlooked how at first, Scrooge was all in favor of the contest and personally commending the bank's manager, only freaking out when he realizes that he owns the bank -- a variation, I believe, of a gag I'm pretty sure Barks used at least once, here executed with a quick setup and then, bam, a blunt turned-on-its head reveal so stark in its irony and so precisely "acted" as to be worth of Laurel and Hardy.




While I would qualify "100" as a character-oriented story before I would a social satire I would say that there is an element of social satire at play. It's predominantly character-driven in that the entire premise is a juxtaposition of the frugal, disciplined, finance-literate Scrooge against three, count 'em, THREE foil types: Jubal, the con artist; the Beagle Boys, who are no-muss, base-level thieves; and Donald, who is (at least in this portrayal) a pure fool. The pop culture-infatuated, financially inept, adult responsibility-oblivious, completely infantile Donald in this story doesn't exactly contradict his general comic book characterization; these traits have been shown, but here, it's just that he's been so completely consumed by these tendencies. I suppose we can chalk it up his obsession with Captain Retro-Duck being a relatively new phenomenon. In other words, a case of, "Oh, it's just a phase -- he'll move on, eventually."

...oh, but I was trying to make a point about the satirical aspects of the story. Basically, Scrooge and his three foils each represent an archetypal human trait/tendency. And each is used to show how money, and moreover, the institution of banking, rules our material existence. Now, I'm not sure if any point is made about this societal situation, which is why ultimately, this is an exercise in showing how these characters each react to a given situation (Scrooge from a different perspective than the other three). But there's at least the framework of a social satire built in to the story.

There is, of course, Scarpa's stab at modern art... which is an easy target, admittedly, but when an actual artist curmudgeonly vents about it in his own work, it has a particularly relishable sting to it. (And evidently, Scarpa and Barks were fellow curmudgeons, sharing a similar view on this "medium"!)

Is there a moral? Since Donald in the end gets as a reward the very thing the very thing he wanted in the first place, perhaps the moral is, "It's okay to be a fool; just don't be a con man or a low-rent thief." How does Scrooge make out? With all of the angst and obsessive effort he goes through, you might think that there might be some ultimate message about Scrooge being too whatever... but in the end, he gets what he wants, too: he hasn't lost anything. Are Scarpa's sympathies actually with Scrooge? Is he actually endorsing Scrooge's ways? I'm not sure, but I wonder.

One of Scarpa's many clever accomplishments in his plotting is the way that each of the three contest participants' efforts "cross over" with and impact each other, leading to the outcome of the story. These scenarios are fully developed enough to not feel contrived; in fact, they play a major part in the story having a tone of tasteful and thoughtful whimsical farce. (However THAT is conceivable!) Jubal's storyline is actually phased out, wrapped up prematurely in dialogue between Scrooge and the bank manager -- during which Jubal is off-screen, and after which he remains so. But even that kind of just falls away in the flow of things. The only plot turn that I found abrupt was how easily and quickly things were wrapped up once the nephews got the info via walkie-talkie from Donald, hiding in the Beagles' midst. I expected Donald getting discovered and the Beagles getting the upper hand again, resulting in one last major obstacle to overcome. I commend Scarpa for using what at first seemed like a lark,  Donald's being enraptured by his new  toy, as an integral plot device, in the dramatic tension afforded by the nephews turning off the walkie-talkie Donald left at home and in how its ultimately the ironic means by which the day is saved. But once Donald finally gets through to the nephews, it's a matter of about three panels before the Beagles have been apprehended (off-screen!), Donald is rescued, and Scrooge has regained the contents of Jewel Vault #3. Nothing to it, easy as pie! Anticlimactic, yes, but at least not as ludicrous and un-sellable as the ending of "Gigabeagle". And not even half as abrupt.

Now, I could pick on Scarpa for the Beagles' giant suction hose thing being a shortcut intended to expedite the vault robbery scene, and for the awkward, clumsy design he came up with for it... but in the former respect, he actually made the right call, because the story beats felt just right. In fact, I'm surprised by now that I haven't brought up how it's easy to imagine this story's premise as a Barks or Barksian ten-pager.  Though it's longer, I guess between the pacing of 10 Barks pages with four tiers each and 33 Scarpa pages with three tiers each, things somehow more or less even out.

For his first turn at a lead story in an IDW Disney comic, Joe Torcivia's dialogue is actually less archaic than that of some of his other recent Americanized scripts... but that's not to say that it's ever dry or straightforward. Take page 8, panel 2: "Hey, you punks! I want my gold nibs!" "Oops! Old stealing habits die hard!" Straightforward in comparison to, say, the daunting alliteration that opened "Meteor Rights", but imagine what the panel in question could have been: "Hey! You stole my gold nib!" "Oh, sorry! We didn't know it was yours!" Or the last panel on the same page: "Gadzooks! The hundred's here! In one lump sum!" What if that had just been, "Wow! Just what I needed, a check for $100!" It really can be the little things that make one's reading experience with these considerably smarter than could easily be the case.


A significant but necessary amendment to the story that Torcivia has made is the entire "Captain Retro-Duck" angle. Until just now, when flipping to the relevant pages, I hadn't put together that there was no superhero or action TV star of any type shown on Donald's TV screen even once during the story. Thus, if I deduce correctly, Captain Retro-Duck, who is referenced in Torcivia's version of the voiceovers for the walkie-talkie promo spots Donald salivates over, was conceived to justify for contemporary American readers why in the age of Google and iPhones Donald or anyone would get so excited in the first place about a walkie-talkie set. It's not that Captain Retro-Duck is a retooling of the TV action star in the original version; there was no TV action star in the original version! In that case, when Donald wanders off from home lost in "playing" Captain Retro-Duck, does that mean in the original, he was just playing some sort of generic make-believe spy game? I can't help but think that his frivolities seem more justified in Torcivia's version. And the nods to TV/comic book/superhero/sci-fi etc. fandom that he worked in are an added bonus, as are all the punny variations of the prefix "retro". Exemplifying both, we have "Sinister storage tanks! Just like the dreaded Eviloid in Episode 213: 'Captain Retro-Duck and the Retro-gressive Gas!'"
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Scrooge #407 wraps up with a two-page Tony Strobl gag created for the Disney Studios program. In contrast with the nephews' chastisising and being considerably wiser than Donald in the lead story, here, they're shown as being completely on the same page and virtually standing as one with Donald against Scrooge. The gag boils down to Scrooge "programming" a parrot to say a series of things to "brainwash" his nephews, and in retaliation, they "reprogram" it to say the things that Scrooge decidedly doesn't want to hear. It reduces the characters to one-note roles... but that's sort of the nature of gag pieces. And as far as gags go, it's decently constructuted, as crass as it makes the characters seem. And I am glad that it's finally be printed in the States, for better or worse.

(Hmm, it just occurred to me... with Strobl, it's kind of as if the characters had been done by Hanna-Barbera. Or the Disney characters done by the artists who drew Western's Hanna-Barbera titles... one of whom I'm sure was Strobl. But he was also a product of his era. I can see some commonalities between him and even the original animation featuring the classic Disney cartoon characters produced for framing sequences of the Walt Disney Presents/Wonderful World of Disney episodes that were made up of select theatrical shorts. But I digress... )
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Though I definitely think of Marco Rota's "A" cover, above (at the start of this post), as the "definitive" cover of this issue (for its "classic" duck comic look), I couldn't help but also purchase a copy with James Silvani's "sub" cover variant. It hit me in a soft spot for evoking DuckTales (i.e. due to the dynamic of Scrooge and the nephews sans Donald, and how, rather than their shirts being "blacked in", the nephews are sporting their DT-canonized red, blue, and green shirts), and "Treasure of the Golden Suns" in particular. The Junior Woodchuck coonskins were prominent in that serial, which may have been the first time the nephews were seen wearing them in conjunction with their non-blacked-in, then-newly-canonized-color scheme-complying shirts. So the aesthetic of their being so attired has a distinctly DT air to it.


-- Ryan

Sunday, June 21, 2015

New comic review: Donald Duck #1 (#368) (IDW, May 2015)

At the outset of the Gladstone II era, I wrote multiple letters to their offices requesting, "Romano Scarpa! More Romano Scarpa!" Such a desire stemmed from the final two months of Gladstone's original run, during which all of their books were 64 pages, more than half of them each featuring a vintage Scarpa story: the Gottfredson-esque "Kali's Nail" and "The Mystery of Tapiocus VI" in Mickey Mouse, "The McDuck Foundation" and "The Last Balaboo" in Uncle Scrooge, and just one Donald Duck adventure, "Amudsen's Talisman" in Donald Duck, which was relegated to the backup slot following Barks' classic "Maharajah Donald", whereas the other four stories were given top billing. When Gladstone II came through with "Colossus of the Nile" (which I'd specifically requested, letter after letter) and other Scarpa duck tales, I was fairly satisfied. But generally, the Scarpa imports to the U.S. printed by the licensee preceding IDW tended to be silly, weird, uneven, and underwhelming. Though "The Treasure of Marco Topo" was fun and enjoyable, it was pure candy. Thus, my impression of Scarpa began to pale.

In the long run, I came to think of there as being either Scarpa Mickey Mouse stories or Scarpa ducks-in-general stories (perhaps "Marco Topo"'s unorthodox cast had something to do with this), even though the latter usually took the specific form of an Uncle Scrooge. So without ever really thinking about it, "Amudsen's Talisman" seemed to me an exception from very early in Scarpa's career. And while it may still be true that Donald rather than Scrooge stories were less common for Scarpa after the '50's, "Amudsen's", I now realize, certainly wasn't the only one. To my delight, IDW "Shellfish Motives", a Donald Duck adventure of Scarpa's, which to read is to almost like relive those especially golden final two months of the golden Gladstone I era. Like the stories listed above that were featured in those exquisite 64-pagers, "Shellfish" dates from the mid-'50's – it's only one month older than "Amudsen's", in fact. (Links to first printings: "Shellfish" Part One and Part Two, "Amudsen's".) It shares the same keen, inspired dramatic and comedic sensibilities of those other Scarpa yarns. In terms of storytelling, it's ambitious: big, quasi-cinematic page-turners of high adventure and nefarious intrigue. The integrated comic relief, most memorably in Uncle Gideon's hyper-busy, erratic, scattered work style, as witnessed by Donald upon his arrival in his [other] uncle's office, blusters with wild, fully-charged energy and action. Scarpa's comedic timing is almost as zippy and acute as Uncle Gideon himself.

I don't know if this will convey why I was won over just by the opening panel (below), but...look at it! It came out in Italy at around the same time that "Land Beneath the Ground" did in the U.S., but it looks as old as "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold"!


Even though Donald's merely reading a book, in the comfort of his living room no less, as the story opens, his "creeped out" reaction portends that dubious doings and treacherous turns are nigh. His exchange with the nephews that ensues is key to establishing how their relationship will work in this story (as it does in many others), with Donald wanting to prove that he's "somebody" and the nephews not taking him seriously. Tying this in with his rant about the schlocky sensationalism the news media, Uncle Gideon's paper in particularly, his way of diminishing that the boys are reading a newspaper while he's reading a low-brow horror-thriller thriller novel, sets up a punch line: the next moment, he receives Gideon's job offer via phone, and all of the sudden, he's heralding the integrity of his uncle's enterprise. This instantaneous about-face is a very funny depiction of how easily Donald succumbs to his ego, and it also serves to drive us right into the next scene: Donald's arrival for his first day on the job. It's at this point that we're privy to Gideon's manic, incessantly inundated, distraction-upon-distraction-compounded job performance. (In fact, Gideon's brother's Scrooge's fraught, high-strung office antics at the beginning of "Back to the Klondike" come to mind.) Scarpa could have just had Donald find Gideon sitting at his desk quietly working on but a single task. But the route Scarpa opted for maintains ours (and Donald's) expectations: this is a big-time operation where things are happening, and Donald's about to be a part of it.

Indeed, he's immediately given his first assignment, and from there, the story charges forward, never wasting a panel, each and every individual action spurring the next. But interspliced between Donald's unorthodox first-day orientation and Gideon breaking down the specs re: Professor Basset, we're shown Donald and his new editor aren't alone anticipating the professor's arrival:  a mysterious someone, concealed from the reader Bond villain-style by the back of his desk chair, giving instructions to three hired thugs on the location where they're to intercept and abduct the professor. Ah-ha ! Thus, during Donald's briefing, which doubles as exposition for the reader's benefit, and then as Donald's plane to Cincinatti departs, Donald's blissfully unaware that the plot has thickened (as goes the cliché) . Whereas, the reader has been drawn further into the unfolding events, well aware that the stakes have already been raised and that keeping tabs on the professor won't be the cakewalk that Donald expects.

Cut to Donald realizing that he'd fallen asleep as is now on the return flight, a tension-raising complication quick to be aleviated when he spots ­­­­the professor on board. This discovery keeps him from jumping out of the plane, which in his best panic seemed to the shortest route back to Cincinatti – leave it to Scarpa to make the most of the comedic potential here! We cut right ahead to landing (back) in Duckburg – though Donald kept his eyes on his subject the whole time, the scenario would be static until touchdown, so there's no reason for the narration to not get on with it. Though he's at first right on top of it, tailing of the professor is gummed up by the prof being smothered by his apparent entourage. Donald manages to follow the professor's taxi with another taxi; the constant effort it takes him to stay on the professor's tail sustains the dramatic tension and a sense of continuous momentum – which is definitely enhanced by the literal momentum of Donald being in transit first by plane and now by cab.

As foreshadowed during our brief non-look at the elusive villain, the professor leads Donald to the candy shop, where the thugs burst in, hold Donald and the shopkeeper at gunpoint, and make off the the professor. Donald and the narrative momentum with rebound and accelerate as Donald scrambles back to the taxi and its driver speeds after the villains' fleeing car. Things run up against a brick wall, though, when their vehicle sprouts a propeller and wings, rises off the ground, and, blip, disappears into thin air, all in a '50's-futuristic sci-fi kind of way. (I'm tempted to make a James Bond analogy again, which would make this story element ahead of its time.)

So, time for a cool-down: the failed, dejected Donald is back at Gideon's office, trying to explain his experience to skeptical and dismissive police. But things begin to pick up steam again upon the villain's issuing of their ransom demands, setting up the eerie scene in which Donald and the nephews separately hide by the train tracks at the designated trade-off point, waiting tensely in dead silence and stillness. This moment of strained anticipation, in which nothing has actually happened yet but it's expected that something is about to, is more subtle, and possibly more effectivel, than your average "villain has the upper hand, having backed the hero into a corner" or "the blade is about to drop!" type of cliffhanger. And this isn't an abridgement for the American version, but is exactly what Scarpa intended –  it was originally presented in two parts, with the break at the same point, in Topolino.

Ah, but then there's the matter of wee little detail to the ransom exchange scenario: in return for the professor, the villains demand a freight train with car after car filled with…fish. This seems to be one of those "wacky" Scarpa things that I just don't quite get. But unlike with, say, "The Pelican Thief", where the crux of the entire story was just that it had a wacky thing in it, this is a way of giving the MacGuffin a bit of color (such as it is). It's subservient to the tightly-constructed, heightened, fast-paced quasi-spy adventure story, rather than distracting from it or dominating it. (That's in terms of Part One – we'll see what #269, due this week, brings.) In fact, it's commendable that even when using such a silly plot device and without ever using actual murder and other kinds of "grit", the stakes are high enough and the dramatic intrigue laid on thick enough that this story – like some of Scarpa's others from this period – are almost on par with tgangster movies or even Tintin, which always had more realism in its danger and violence than Barks or Gottfredson. One might say the starkness of the stage-setting and the expedient escalation is Hitchcockian, bringing to mind, say, North by Northwest. (Okay, okay, I know I say that every time a story has its hero traveling alone by train or plane, some sort of chase/pursuit element, and an unidentified, unseen antagonist manipulating events.)

From the in-transit and chase scenes, this might sound like a Donald-on-a-solo mission story. Indeed, he literally leaves the nephews at home for his assignment, and it isn't until well after the opening scene, once the villains', their hostage with them, trail had gone cold, that the nephews are back in play, "resorting" (they may actually prefer it!) to independent investigating, as Donald won't "stoop" to working with them, still determined to prove who the man is and who the kdis. Given their close proximity at the cliffhanger, though, it looks that they'll wind up in the thick of this adventure together. Donald spending a good chunk of the story "on the go" as an investigative reporter pursuing and ending up in a scuffle with the mastermind villain's henchmen in trenchcoats are, to be precise, what brought the aforementioned Tintin to mind – Jonathan Gray cleverly subverted this comparison by making the less-obvious Spirou reference. In turn, this story's Tintin-esque 1938 Italian ancestor, Federico Pedrocchi's "Special Correspondent" came to mind. For a second, I wondered if the nephews' absence was due to Scarpa not having seen Barks stories to use as a model and instead had Tintin, Spirou, and the like as sort of the de facto example of how to do comics, duck or not, as well as the remote possibility that he'd read "Special Correspondent" … but then I remembered that this one of the first original stories created for Topolino, prior to which Italian-izations of Barks stories had been a regular feature in Topolino.

And, again, it does appear that Donald and the nephews will be a team again in second half of the story. (I'm predicted that Donald will blow his cover in the bushes, the villains will capture him, and the nephews will have to save his ass). But moreover, only a month later, came Scarpa's aforementioned "Amudsen's Talisman", which was very Barksian in form, with Scrooge sending Donald and the nephews on a treasure hunt (which is the way he did things before getting his own comic, you might recall). And take the characterization in "Shelflfish:" Donald's childishness, his soft spot for pop culture, and his disgruntled state giving way to the yearning and drive for success and acclaim (or delusions of grandeur, Daisy and the nephews ight say); and the nephews' sharp wits, resourcefulness, youthful spunk and vigor, and their eye-rolling and sighing "Here we go again!" response to Donald's stubbornness and lack of caution, I'd say that Scarpa was no stranger to Barks' take on the characters. Gray made the most of their interplay. having one of the nephews warn, "Your mastery streaks never end well, Unca Donald!" – an in-joke for the learned fan that's in fact masterful itself! Almost as good are a pair of lines from the nephews two panels later: "The gall! After all the jams we've saved him from, he gets a big head again!" [This rings especially true when you consider that it has happened infinite times since this story's first printing in 1956.] "Typical!" one of the other nephews adds. [And how!]

It's already virtually given that in almost every new IDW Disney comic, Gray does stellar dialogue job. In addition to the already-cited Spirou and "mastery streak" references, Gray works in everything from satirical, absurd newspaper headlines; bombastic, lofty delcarations of journalistic integrity from both Donald and Gideon; Donald in a daydream impressing a glamorous woman he refers to as a "sexy starlet" (hey...the word "sexy" appeared in a Disney comic! Is this a first?!) as "toots", which brought to mind his animated shorts; unconventional and original exclamative phrases like "Sweet fudfgyjiggers!" and "Holy hoppin' mudpuppies!"; Donald flippantly addressing the nephews as "bambinos", which resonates as something I might have once read in a Barks story but can't place; a reference to a contemporary exercise trend; and going all the way with the villain's hired thugs gangster jargon, with three "youse" being uttered in the space of five consecutive panel, twice in the context of oldest tropes in the book: "None o' youse make no sudden moves!", and then, "an' youse two joiks better not move so much as a muscle!" (Yup, "joiks"!) No, I'm not kidding you, they actually say these things! Totally self-aware in using these old standards, Gray has fun with it, and in turn, so do I! ...and those are just a few bits that stood out to me; there's heaps more!

Commencing the relaunch of the Donald Duck title, David Gerstein opens the May Crosstalk with a snappy, concise general overview of Donald's history. I've always said that just about anyone could read almost any duck comic book story (save perhaps many of Don Rosa's) with no prior experience and understand the characters and follow the story about as well as long-time readers. Given this accessibility, and Donald's recognizability to non-(but perhaps new) fans, a timeline-oriented history wasn't needed here. Instead, David's way of refocusing the lens, making almost a mission statement as to who Donald is and what he and his comic have been and will continue to be, is right on the mark. This piece is almost lyrical, and not just because some of the ironic lyrics to the theme from Donald's theatrical shorts are quoted, crystallizing the everyman spirit of the Donald who's always dreaming of the sweet life and so inevitably always disgruntled, though always manging to get back on his feet, dust himself off, and try again.


Still, it's the tidbit that Gerstein offers right after the Donald piece that's the kind of thing that a fan like me can't get enough of: Gideon McDuck is actually a long-time Italian Disney comic. Brigitta and Fethry have gotten their share of exposure in the States, but I don't believe that I've ever even heard of Giddy. I can only speak for myself, but as an American fan, the idea of Scrooge having a younger brother alive, well, and high-profile in present-day Duckburg is off-putting – and not because of any Barks purism or Rosa canon disciplism, but simply because it's never been part of the picture. Frankly, it's almost like finding out a close relative your own who'd you never heard of has been living and running a prominent business in your hometown as long as you've been alive! But given how much I enjoyed his introductory scene, Giddy won me over surprisingly quickly. His wiry, boundless, energy and high-spirited aloofness brings to mind both Ludwig Von Drake and Fenton Crackshell. And the idea of Scrooge having a brother equally devoted to his work but with a polar-opposite set of ideals is a logical one that I can see is ripe with stor(ies) potential, and I'd say I'm surprised that it hasn't been done before, except it has – by Romano Scarpa before anyone else, with this very story, sixty years ago. (Per Inducks, this is Giddy's debut.)

I've always felt that characters like Brigitta and Fethry's track record in the U.S. has been spotty enough, even with the best intentions of the relevant editorial team, that I've never been quite convinced that they're a "real" part of the cast. As European readers have several decades and thousands of stories on us, collectively and "organically" absorbed such characters from their creation through evolution, it's natural, especially with our monthly as opposed to weekly publishing schedules and the several-year gaps between publishers, that we haven't been able to catch up. I speculated that "Stinker, Tailor, Scrooge and Spy" had been chosen for IDW's first    Uncle Scrooge for being a typical Brigitta-Jubal Pomp story, laying the groundwork for them to be regulars. Seeing how Donald Duck's inaugural IDW issue introduces the U.S. to Gideon McDuck with the very same story that introduced him to Italy (and was his first appearance anywhere) but delayed by 60 years, it can be inferred that there's a game plan underway to bring us up to speed. If this is so, I salute Gerstein and Sarah Gaydos' prudent editorial choices. Looking back on how the Ultraheroes serials printed by the 2009-11 licensee were thrust upon us with no context even though the characters' super-hero alter-egos were in fact longstanding in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, it's relieving and refreshing that things are being done right this time around.
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And it's not just Gideon being introduced with Donald #368...or re-introduced, as in this next case. The Donald and Fethry story at the back end of this book does for Fethry what "Stinker, Tailor, Scrooge and Spy" did for Brigitta and Jubal: it's not the greatest story, but it's an apt example of Fethry's personality and how he interacts with the comic's "star" – he was intended as a foil for Donald, and he decidedly fulfills this purpose here, waging chaos in Donald's house through a series of failed attempts at repairing a few household appliances. It's a pretty generic situation comedy scenario and amounts to no more than a few base slapstick gags, and I know I'm not the only one who finds Al Hubbard's duck art rather strange. But I understand (what I suspect to be) the purpose behind this story choice, so I'm all for it. It's fitting to use something from Fethry's original run, the stories that Hubbard and writer Dick Kinney created for the Disney Studios program in the mid-'60's.
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In my review of "Shiver Me Timbers!", I wrote that Bas Heymans' arct struck me "'40's Barks filtered through Marco Rota and Ben Verhagen". The younger Heyman, Mau, shows similar sensibilities in "Wrecks, Lies and Videotapes" – there are a couple of Donald poses that, if you showed them to me by themselves, might just fool me if you told me they were Barks. However, here, Daan Jiipes springs to mind more so than Rota and Verhagen, though there's definitely still some Verhagen-ness in there somewhere. Written by Mau with Kirsten de Graaff, this is a Barksian 10-pager in both form and essence, in every aspect of Donald's latest get-rich(and famous)-quick scheme (which, complementing the lead story, he rushes into bullheadedly, failing to heed the nephews' cautioning), to Daisy trusting something to Donald's care despite her apprehension, which he stumbles his way into vindicating, to Donald's altercations to Neighbor Jones, to the innate social satire of the "old hen"-esque "snobs from [Daisy's] ladies' club" (or "corpulent hippo" club – harsh, Gray!) ... and finally, in the way all the separate threads dovetail and come crashing together in one big, pure Donaldian calamity that ends in his humiliated defeat, with the footage Donald had thought he had taped over ending up on the air and embarrassing the ladies' club, whose members quickly burst onto the scene out for blood, led by Daisy, so utterly let down by Donald yet again. To add insult to injury, Jones ends up winning the contest, with footage he had furtively taped of Donald's earlier trouncings –a twist that, in a very Barksian fashion, had been planted between the lines (or panels) when Jones got wind of Donald's scheme. Yes, Donald's near-success is swiftly unraveled two-fold. (I think there's a mixed metaphor in there...) In setting up these layers and choreographing their intertwined resolutions, Mau and de Graaff's story construction is worthy of the Duck Man himself. Some might contend that it's too beholden and deferential to his work, but it's certainly no shoddy knockoff!


The whirlwind of anguish, humiliation, anger, and anxiety immediately spurred by the unfortunate broadcast quickly funnels down to the ladies' giving Donald chase, tearing his clothes as they lash at him. From the very beginning of the chase we jump ahead to and end on a naked, nervous Donald desperately clutching to buoy he's been driven to, a few yards out past the pier, from where the ladies' club members chide him and mock him as he pleads for his jacket, his face red with shame. (Hey, looks like that was a touch entirely added by colorists Sanoma and Travis Seitler. Kudos, guys!) The story could have ended with Donald fleeing for his life, which would certainly get the point across. But Barks would have doubled-down with one final gag showing the less-than-ideal circumstances Donald has been forced to seek refuge in. Mau and de Graaff have taken a cue from the master in making sure they go out topping themselves, and this closing cross-page panel is very well-composed, telling a story in itself – or at least what had happened since the previous panel.

The perspective line is plotted so that we're to the side of and slightly behind Daisy's ladies, who are positioned in the foreground across the rightmost two-thirds of the panel, looking with them out at Donald. Or, think of it like this: We're standing facing their left shoulders, but turning our head to the left so that we can keep see Donald. He may look far away, but of course, he's just drawn smaller and higher up from the bottom of the panel than are Daisy and Co. – I know, I know, we're talking Perspective 101. By basing our vantage point on par with that of the ladies, it's quite palpable how they've used their numbers to strongarm him into exile literally beyond the fringes of Duckburg society, while they continue to enjoy having their feet planted on dry land.

Poor Donald. He may have gotten carried away in his zeal to win the cash prize, but he never actually meant to hurt him anyone.

-- Ryan