Friday, June 24, 2016

New-ish comic review: Uncle Scrooge #419 (IDW, June 2016)

IDW: If you keep having both the A and B cover reflect the contents inside, 
I'll keep buying both! (And glad to help sales that way!)

"Scrooge's Last Adventure" Part 3
written by Francesco Artibani
drawn by Alessandro Perina
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
new U.S. dialogue by Jonathan H. Gray
(Italy, Topolino #2987, February 26th, 2013)

When the support of Scrooe's in Part 2 pushed him out of his post-defeat slump and he vowed to fight back against the cabal that has robbed him of his financial empire and dignity, he meant it. Part 3 finds him practically marching through the Gates of Hell Pluto and into the Realm of the Council of Dark Magic. While Donald is understandably scared and Magica is walking on eggshells around her former masters, Scrooge bullishly confronts the Council like their secretaries or bureacrats standing between him and a rival CEO he's determined to confront -- and the comedic contrast between Scrooge and the more on-edge Donald and Magica is one of Part 3's hightlights. Another is the battle of wits against the Council that Scrooge wins -- a fine entry in the "Hero moves onto the next phase of his Hero's Journey by overcoming an intellectual challenge from a physically large immortal Guardian of some sort" tradition hailing all the way back to Oedipus solving the Riddle of the Sphinx. Kudos to Gray for the intelligence and complexity of this exchange, and how charmingly in-character the asides between Scrooge, Donald, and Magica were.

And said next phase consists of -- a surprise new encounter and new outing with the Terries and Firmies(!!!) Scrooge and Donald in order order help the subterranean part-bowling ball ones solve a major environmental crisis that'd beset them, the culprit turning out to be none other than... Glomgold. This reveal nicely ties Terry-Fermy episode into the wider story arc as a whole. In my review of Parts 1 and 2, I compared "Last Adventure" to the ill-realized "Rightful Owners" DuckTales four-parter. That disaster had attempted to revisit a couple of classic Barks adventures, too... but Artibani's return to the land beneath the ground is succintly and fully-realized, and packed with the requisite "mass roll" action by Perina, its place in the larger story balanced and in the proper scope, a deflty-paced and rollicking run-up to final chapter. Scrooge even has his top hat returned to him! (...wait, are you sure Don Rosa never had that happen?!) ;) Gray does a perfect job with the Terries and Firmies' country music FM radio-"learnt" speech -- it felt as though I were reading the original!

"The Stick-Up"
written, drawn, and lettered by William Van Horn
(New to the U.S. First appearance anywhere in Norway's Donald Duck & Co. #2010-09, March 1st, 2010)

Another Rumps McFowl-oriented Van Horn short making it U.S. debut. Rumpus, inexplicably left in charge of Scrooge's office while he and his nephews are off on yet another adventure (funny setup, that, to have an entire one of those happening off-panel), nearly blows it by making some frivolous decisions to use McDuck funds toward an attempt to win a television promotional contest -- but inadvertently foils a near-successful Beagle break-in plot, while winning the contest... which ends up benefitting Scrooge, since he owns the company hosting the contest! Genuinely kooky, clever, quickly-paced, funny stuff, replete with some wacky, calamitous syrup-based purely Van Horn visuals!

-- Ryan

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

New comic review: Darkwing Duck #2 (Joe Books, May 2016)

"Orange Is the New Purple" Part 2 
written by Aaron Sparrow
drawn by James Silvani
(Well, technically, the way they're credited is jointly, as just the "storytellers".)

The majority of Part 2 of the new Darkwing Duck comic's first story arc is preoccupied with DW, flying by the seat of his (non-)pants, scrapping it up with one of his distinguished foes after another -- it appears that the idea is to have 'em just keep comin'. Elsewhere, in the cutaways to Negaduck watching DW from afar and Gosalyn trying to maker her way undetected to her dad, several additional villains show up, as the super-villain prison setting affords. (Hmm, maybe that was even the whole point...?) ;) 

The succession of specially selected and spotlit showdowns that DW is subject to, averaging two pages per villain, is so busy, dense, varied, and fast-paced that it not only doesn't feel too long, but feels shorter than it is, page count-wise. Honestly, on paper (, wait, it is...well, you know what I...never mind...), if I read an outline of this installment, I'd think, "So the story is put on hold for a long string of gratuitous villain cameos, and when we finally get to the next story beat, it's cliffhanger time?" But in execution, the comic eschews any such attempt at quantifying it structurally and functionally. Each of the scenarios that DW is thrown into -- and most importantly, the solution that he finds for each -- is fully and thoroughly developed, and genuinely original, distinguished, and clever. Along the way, every single pun, gag, and moment of comedic levity reinforcing DW as flawed hero (...yeah, he'd resent that) hits the mark. '70's Gold Key or Charlton this ain't. Sparrow and Silvani know what they're doing, so if it's it's gonna be something as structurally cut-and-dry and repetitive as "DW gets in the ring with one familiar villain after another", it's 'cause they realize the potential that such an outing has to rock, and they're gonna go all in and all out to ensure that it does.

...and not to mention that the "villains' revolving door" sequence is comparable to the immortal Looney Tunes "blackout gag" structure, which DW's TV show emulated and paid homage to on countless occasions. So Sparrow and Silvani's riffing is wildly appropriate.

Thus, when two or three (or four) major plot developments pretty much simultaneously "go down" on the last couple pages, they don't feel belated but "organic", even after such rampant frivolousness. For one thing, we were having fun the whole time anyway.  The build-up to Cat-Tankerous' return was concisely and lucidly broken down into very short bits interspersed throughout the story starting with the field trip/prison opening ceremony scene (and conveyed a considerable amount of understated pathos, actually), so we're good there. The reveal Suff-rage's Mistressterious is, on the other hand, totally out of the blue (unless there were hints I'm too dense to have picked up on) but intriguing, given how in "Campaign Carnage", her identity was tauntingly hinted at with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull and the significance this would have to Darkwing Duck "'shippers", if there are in fact any fans who that designation would apply to. (Wait a minute, since I even get how this particular relationship of DW's can be taken as a big deal, I think I might be a 'shipper... NNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!) But then there's the fact that it appears that she's running her own hijacking of the prison independent and under the radar of Negaduck's -- definitely a wrench thrown into the works that adds a whole new angle to the story that heretofore we hadn't realized even existed, raising all kinds of questions. But in the Darkwing Duck pantheon, Negaduck trumps all, and thus the villainess with the confounding headgear making her big entrance is only part of the run-up to the more calculated blow that follows and that really leaves us dazed and staggered...

The figurative bomb that Negaduck drops on us and DW at the very last moment, that he's holding Gosalyn hostage, is no mere falling back on the damsel-in-distress trope. The fear and hurt in Darkwing's reaction is palpable, and right on target, hearkening all the way back to the bond paternal bond formed in "Darkly Dawns the Duck". That in one sense Negaduck actually is Drake (think in terms of the theory that ostensibly parallel universes are actually the same universe, sharing the same physical space but existing on different frequencies, of sorst), given the malevolence that rules every fiber of his being, and given his abusive history with his universe's Gosalyn, then for him to have her at his mercy -- as Negs is all too keenly aware -- hits Drake where he's absolutelymost vulnerable, and is the cruelest, most tragic -- but astoundingly apt -- irony. Sparrow and Silvani get these characters, and they drive home how visceral and potentially emotionally nuclear it is to have their deep-seated (and trans-dimensionally destined) rivalry -- and Gosalyn's inextricable part in it -- come to a head like this.

[And though she wasn't actually mentioned, Part 2's final scene certainly evoked the Negaverse Gosalyn... at least to me, if just because seeing "regular" Gosalyn in Negaduck's clutches reminded me of her parallel timeline counterpart.) And so, on a related note, I think I'll finally throw out to Aaron and James a question that's long eaten at me: How come Negaduck never thought to check out who lives in the "Prime" universe who might live at the address that belonged to him in the Negaverse?]

The gel-haired, vapidity-exuding two TV news anchors with names that have a ring similar to that of "derp derp" are fast on their way to becoming a staple of the comic. They work well as a framing device, given the "public" nature of DW's career of confronting and foiling "public menaces", and are a vehicle for some nice world-building, fleshing out and reinforcing St. Canard almost as a character unto itself.

Launchpad really shone in his one-page appearance (on the first page, in fact), eagerly, earnestly, and heedlessly doing what he can in hopes of coming to the aid of his "buddy". Oddly, faux-Launchpad in his later appearance was similarly likable... and DW accounting for how he souced out the imposter made for a particularly priceless particular line. (Not a typo -- I mean a particular line that's particularly priceless.) ;)

-- Ryan

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New comic review: Darkwing Duck #1 (Joe Books, April 2016)

 As Joe Books' Darkwing Duck #2 is due out tomorrow, it's high time for this blog to honor and review #1, as it was in the truest sense, a glorious, triumphant return to comics for Darkwing Duck... and I can't overstate enough, a glorious, triumphant return to Darkwing Duck comics for the creative team of Aaron Sparrow and James Silvani. It's the latter two men, respectively, who in 2009 launched DW's last comics return, but due to subsequent unfortunate, er, managerial decisions, were not kept together for the duration of that run (at least officially... wink, wink...!) Now, however, ideal circumstances (as such they appear from this observer's distant coordinates) at a different (*coughvastlysuperiorcoughcough*) publisher have enabled the reunion of Aaron, James, and Darkwing & Co. And we, the fans/readers, are reaping the benefits (though maybe not as much as the creators, who get paid for being obsessed with this stuff!)

Given that fans have been awaiting this occasion for nearly five years (man,it's been already been that long? GTFO!), and moreover, given how long its creators have fought for the victory that is this comic's existence, the occasion is treated perfectly with the colorful, joyful, festive.. and inevitably calamitous opening scene portraying the "St. Canard Main Street Lit-Up Electrical Parade" (That's not just a classic but a classy Disney in-reference!) 

If you'll excuse  my presumptuousness, I believe that the the intent behind the parade scene is precisely as I've characterized it: to declare, "WOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!  Darkwing's BACK!!!!!!" in a blazing torrent of zany, over-the-top, slam-bang-zoom-smash action. My evidence? The only bearing that the parade and the destruction left in its wake on the plot that's underway by issue's end is the matter of how Megavolt gets from Point A to Point B... as if we really need a backstory for his or any super-villain's latest incarceration. However, if there's ever a third instance of a Darkwing Duck #1 in which an identity-withheld figure of intrigue abducts Megavolt, it will have officially become a tradition. ;) 

If you've ever been subjected to the decrees from on high as to how a screenplay (particularly, but other storytelling mediums are applicable) must be written, then you know that a writer shall never depict their character just hangin' 'round and chillin' like they would on any other ordinary day and move on to the next scene without a quantifiable change that advances the plot having taken place. If the  "parade disaster" opener loosely makes the grade, well, as  far as I can see, the "dinner at the Muddlefoots'" bit that follows eschews the so-called conventional wisdom of the gurus of pop culture formula. Nothing that transpires during it is of any trackable consequence on anything that happens afterwards -- it's just Drake reluctantly attending a cookout (and TV marathon) hosted by Herb Muddlefoot and squirming through it, as we'd expect him to. Oh, but that's what's so great about this scene. The characterizations and dialogue -- from Herb hilariously experiencing no cognitive whatsoever from his contention that the addition of tofu makes bacon and blue cheese "healthy"; to Gosalyn decidedly "cucking" Tank; to Tank slickly hustling cash out of Drake in exchange for his freedom by sabotaging by sabotaging Herb's TV satellite dish -- are not only spot-on, but delightfully original and exponentially amusing. It's like a jazz musician who will riffing comes up with a glorious melody that's completely and utterly new but yet rather than altering the song, reminds us what it sounds like.

Moreover, I'd argue that this sequence does serve a higher purpose. "The Duck Knight Returns" found circumstances in St. Canard having drastically, even antithetically, changed from those that we knew. The comic was never intended to be fan-fiction dwelling exclusively on intimacy between select characters, and therefore the heroes had to be the heroes and the villains had to be the villains, and so the status quo waos quickly restored... almost too quickly, as things remained so high-gear, several issues passed before it hit me, "W-w-w-wait, sso Drake and Gos DO still live in that same house? ...oh, you mean, Binky DIDN'T succumb to the temptations posited by some Fabio-like male model, leaving Herb, who was only saved by Quackwerks hiring him for, er, "TV viewer market research"? (Imagine Herb forcibly watching TV 24/7 Clockwork Orange-style but LOVING every second of it.) Ummm, hey, so we've been told that SHUSH is defunct, but have Sara Bellum's skills been co-opted by Quackwerks, or did the Crime-Bots execute her in cold blood based on algorithm determing her erratic, unpredictable, unreliable nature?" The Muddlefoots scene and certainly the subsequent satellite visit check-in with J. Gander and Gryzlikoff reaffirm that this is the Darkwing Duck universe we know and love from the show, and they have a grounding, reassuring effect that admittedly was somewhat missing last time 'round.

Back on Earth, we find Gosalyn off to school for the day, and what at first appears to be just some daily-mundane-suburban-routine stuff  within a couple panels is eclipsed by a vital piece of information that ("Finally!", I can hear Messrs. McKee and Ball harrumphing) gives way to the plot formally being continuously advanced. The insistent stream of jokes about the idiocy of hosting children as guests in an operational maximum-security prison and the steady flow of snarky asides (from Gosalyn) about this ironic scenario and Boober Fraggle-worthy fretting (from Honker) re: anticipating that "somethng BAD!!!" is about to happen reinforce that we're not merely being treated to a living museum tour of DW's rogues gallery, but that... well, that "something BAD!!!" is about to happen.

That something being Negaduck (newly-and-finely-filed teeth and all) springing his latest malevolent scheme to put his reviled cross-universe doppelganger through Hell and back infinite times over. Under the (non-)stewardship of the 2009-2011 publisher, Silvani's art at times felt somewhat constricted, as if he was up against unreasonable deadlines... and Aaron was exceptionally vocal in relating to the public how those enforced by that publisher (the name of which shall NOT be uttered within this realm) indeed were. And after Aaron was let go, the comic was depleted of humor (when originally, its humor had been in stylistic keeping with the TV show and surged with real lifeblood); grasp of characterization and dialogue became tenuous at best; and whoever's influence won out in terms of plot and story, their sensibilities were higher-level-aimed but too rigid and dry in operation.

And while the Definitely Dangerous collected, "remastered" volume by and large rectifies the 2010-2012 run, Joe Books' April 2016 Darkwing Duck #1 is the first time we're seeing -- no-holds-barred, unfettered, and un-fucked-with -- the Sparrow-Silvani team blasting full-bore out the gate with an original Darkwing Duck comic book issue that is fully developed and realized, brimming and bursting with razor-sharp wit and life-loving energy on each and every imperative count: story, art, characterization, and dialogue. These guys have wholly internalized he original series and now radiate it back at the universe hematically, stylistically, and spiritually. And as my default mode is to write about the writing, I'll take this opportunity to note that whereas later in the 2010-2012, Silvani presumably out of necessity was at times working in a stiffer, more utilitarian way than he'd probably like to, at Joe Books, his every page and panel is final draft/director's cut-level. Remember that two-page splash at the beginning of 2010's #1? Here, every panel has that kind of dynamics. And while, say, there were Disney Adventures artists of old who could certainly draw Disney Afternoon characters on model, Silvani not only has on-model in spades, but he's a virtuoso with anatomy, physicality, posing, and nuances in expression and countenance. In other words, the comic looks great. And it looks just like the TV show, too boot -- just look at the background/crowd characters/extras.

"Okay, soooooooooo... Negaduck shows up. And?" Well, yes, technically, all that happens is, indeed, Negaduck shows up, brawls some with DW, and then gloats, in so many words, "Oh, by the way, you're trapped, and things are about to get a lot less than pleasant for you." That's a pretty vague, non-committal cliffhanger, right? Ah, but this is a case of form over content. With every unbridled smash of a giant-sized mallet; wildly indiscriminate lashing and whipping about of a (fully powered and grinding away at full force) chainsaw; every vain, flamboyant flaunting his bristling bragging of the mirth, merriment, jubilation, and joy that he takes in misanthropy, malevolence, sadism, and savagery; and every sardonic, acerbic, contemptuous (but with relish) jibe at the expense of his "Regularverse" equivalent, this isn't some over-hyped, fan-ingratiating, obligatory "Negaduck  Returns, and with His Biggest Scheme Yet" affair. Rather, this IS Negaduck, period. The cliffhanger intrigues and entices despite that things are only just starting, as, frankly, not only are we still riding high on the sorely awaited reveal of Everyone's Favorite Villain that transpired a moment ago, but the stakes -- both physical and interpersonal/emotional -- have just been related so lucidly and resoundingly as to have fully substantiated themselves. In other words, we're sold.

Good thing #2 is out! :D ;)

P.S. I greatly appreciate the running joke incorporating Launchpad's DuckTales-based inclination toward "crashing", which I believe -- but I may be wrong -- was never in play or alluded to on Darkwing Duck.

-- Ryan

Monday, May 23, 2016

New comic review: The Pink Panther Free Comic Book Day Edition #1 (American Mythology, May 7th, 2016)

Alas, the comic book store (and the one other that I visited) that I regularly patronize only had the standard cover (by S.L. Gallant, depicted below) and not the Ant and the Ardvark variant that I was hoping to get my hands on. Hey, what matters is that I got the comic -- and following my rule of thumb with the IDW books that I buy (Disney and otherwise), the A cover is always the "real" one, and I don't want to be a hypocrite, now, do I? And as this particular A cover directly represents the lead story, it justifies my reasoning behind my personal system for choosing covers.

Also, a correction: I had reported that this Free Comic Book Day edition is also this new Pink Panther run's official #1. The ads inside it clarify that the formal #1 will follow sometime in May, but it appears to have been pushed back to June 8th.

written and drawn by S.L. Gallant

Gallant definitely understands the neo-silent film, visually-dependent nature of the DePatie-Freleng shorts and faithfully translates them to the medium of comics... or, if you will, sequential art. (I would think that Scott McCloud would approve.)  I was confused by a couple of the gags. I'm prone to think it may well have been me, with one exception: what's up with Inspector Clouseau's cameo at the end? Is he Thor's Earthly counterpart, or was this a case of magical long-distance place-trading? Anyway, in the spirit of Free Comic Book Day, this parody of Marvel's Thor works nicely as tribute to the medium as a whole.

"Clean Sweep"
written and drawn by Adrian Ropp

The punchline of this one-page Ant and the Ardvark gag is an old standby. While no new layers or twists are added to it, it's still told well, with quick, sharp timing, and the characterization is true to the shorts. Compared to the light, flitting style of "Pan-Thor", this has an earthier style, grounded (pun kind of intended) by a more weighted sense of anatomy. In both cases, the respective style is an appropriate interpretation of the animation on which the comic is based, although neither is a slavish mimicry of the original by any means.

"Pink Volcano"
written and drawn by Warren Tufts

Though this story is attributed to 1994 issue of Pink Panther (published by Harvey, we can deduce), the fact that it was also a reprint then is neglected. The four-tiers-per-page format in conjunction with the Pink Panther title logo in the opening half-page splash are a dead giveaway that this of Gold Key/Whitman origin. In true Western Publishing fashion, just like with, for example, Tom and Jerry and The Road Runner the Pink Panther does something that his screen counterpart does not: talk. A lot. 

This is an extremely silly story about an island trying to sacrifice "Pink" (that's his name, apparently) to their volcano god. The natives are represented by an oblivious, buffoonish "king" with an absurdly long, jibberish-y name that he can never pronounce right himself (this running joke nearly dominates the story) and his royal "assistant", who's the "power behind the throne" -- you know, the type who's actually far more astute and competent than their "lord", and is actually the one keeping things running, but never complains, happily, loyally and quietly doing his job. Their comedic interplay is actually pretty entertaining. The same goes for Pink playing out the old routine of relishing in the mistaken belief that the natives genuinely mean to treat him hospitably and as an honored guest, and then, at the moment the truth hits home (markedly later than common sense would dictate -- and that's where the humor lies, of course), doing, "Wuh-wuh-WUHHHHH?!!! They want to EAT ME??!!! I'm OUTTA HERE!!!"-type double-take. Fun stuff. Like cotton candy! (And not just 'cause it's pink!)

-- Ryan

Saturday, May 21, 2016

New comic(s -- in total, 2) review: Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #730-731 (IDW, April-May 2016)

Right: Cover for #730, drawn by Henrieke Goorhuis, colored by Ronda Pattison. Original.
Left: Cover for #731, drawn by Massimo Fecchi, colored by Mario Perrotta.

"The Search for the Zodiac Stone" (#730-731)
Chapter 10: "Blondbeard's Pirate Plunder"
Chapter 11: "The Partners of the Pendant"
written by Bruno Sarda
drawn by Franco Valussi
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
U.S. dialogue by Jonathan H. Gray
(Italy. Topolino #1789-1790, March 11th and March 18th, 1990)

Eleven issues ago ( time has flown!), I wrote about the advent of the U.S. premier of "The Search for the Zodiac Stone" in terms of expecting some sort of cosmic-in-scope, "ultimate"duck-mouse universe-set "epic". I had no idea what I was talking about, as many a European reader would've been able to recognize 25+ years ago. To a Topolino reader in 1990, this storyline we might imagine was a novelty: for 12 consecutive issues (exactly three months' worth), one story (out of several) per issue, each roughly 30 pages in length, was presented under the over-arcing "Zodiac Stone" umbrella. What otherwise may have read as the latest Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, or even Huey, Dewey, and Louie adventure had tacked onto it some jive about the immediate proceedings having something to do with the recovery of 1 of 12 "pedants" (as they've been called int he American version).

The loosely serialized nature of the continuity is driven home by its unassuming, casual, not merely self-contained but self-concerned second-to-last and penultimate installments. Chapter 10 is made of the stuff that accounted for a Huey, Dewey and Louie Back to School or Donald Duck Family edition of Dell Giant: the nephews, staying on Grandma Duck's farm, are bored, so Grandma decides to liven things up for them by faking a pirate's treasure map set right on her farm. On the other hand, even given her temporarily getting the upper hand on Scrooge, Chapter 11 may be Magica's most undignified, humiliating effort to acquire Scrooge's first dime: despite the basis of the magic she uses here in Greek mythology, in effect, it comes off as little more than her commandeering a coin-operated grocery store kiddie ride rocking horse.

Make no mistake, I enjoyed the comedic  seasoned adventurer nephews' expressions of boredom with the plain doldrums of a "hayseed's" existence; Grandma's stick-to-it-iv-ness in not just verbally defending her way of life but going out of her way to orchestrate an elaborate ruse to prove her point; the comic relief found in Gus reluctantly aiding Grandma in aid efforts and in their course becoming far more easily tired than she is; Scrooge's faulty memory ("Back to the Klondike", anyone?) leading both Donald and Mickey around the globe on several false trails; and a despondent Scrooge supplicating a gloating Magica, who is quick to find herself fouled up by the surprise arrival of the Donald-Mickey team. And make no mistake, each and all of these characterizations and interactions were as richly rewarding as they are in the IDW due to Jonathan Gray's exacting scribesmanship.

Whereas in Chapter 10, the "Taurus" theme is incorporated only in passing as part of the opening scene, and later revisited, sort of "tying everything together" at the Whitman-level "dramatic" climax, and has absolutely nothing to do with the respective pendant's backstory, Chapter 11's " " is jutting right into our face, in a glaring, big, honkin' way... yet the ultimate locating of the  pendant turns out to have NOTHING to do with the preceding search for it, in an way that's almost clever for being anti-clever.

So, in all, yes, "The Search for the Zodiac Stone" has ended up being sillier an outing than I'd originally hoped it might be. But it HAS -- thanks to the lively, charming art, dialogue, and characterizations -- been a hell of a lot of fun, delightfully both silly and satirical.

And the final panel of Chapter 11 teases and promises that the next and final installment will see the Phantom Blot teamed with Peg Leg Pete. Let it not be said that "they", in their various permutations over the decades and across the continents, don't know what we want!

"Music for Melons" (#730)
written and drawn by Ben Verhagen
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seiter
U.S. dialogue by David Gerstein
(Netherlands. Donald Duck #9-1987, February 27th, 1987)

Perhaps it's because of "Blondbeard"'s low-key nature that "Petrified Perfection" was given  the cover and lead spot over "Zodiac"'s tenth chapter. Whatever the reason, the rare appearance of Ben Verhagen story is a special event in its own right, and being a 10-pager, it being a WDC&S headliner is both appropriate and deserved. Donald pressured to succeed in a new, key position delegated to him by the ruthlessly judgmental Scrooge is a time-tested formula. I wouldn't as Donald only succeeds at the last minute, after a string of desperate, failed attempts. If the intended-to-be-silly efforts to accelerate and compound the growth of a single melon are visually not as silly as they could be, Gerstein's dialogue makes up for it, with numerous pun and turns-of-phrase ingenious in their direct contextual relevance, as well as several very eccentric references (a couple of which I couldn't even figure out). 

Something about the narrative execution felt off to me -- I've pinned it to the fact that Scrooge charges Donald with the entire crop, yet the ensuing efforts are centered on the one melon. Though we're shown what inspired this obsession, it was hard to escape the feeling of established but immediately neglected expectations. Living (and measuring) up to the legend is a still hard sell, as it's not made explicit that the melon icon painted on the fence is supposed to represent the actual size of the historic precedent Don's striving to emulate. 

Ultimately, though, the [series of comedic failed attempts --> fleeting moment of triumph undone by over-the-top disaster --> things turn out okay with a "twist" solution] structure holds things together perfectly fine. The wide-angle, grand, stately depiction of Scrooge's newly-opened giant-melon-refurbished-as-hotel in the closing half-page splash evokes the fantastical whimsy of Verhagen's adventure stories. I don't know if Scrooge in the introductory scene citing the zoning restrictions subjected upon him or the cryptic hint in the legend about "the secret being found in song" were originally part of the story or were worked in by Gerstein, but either way, both lay the ground for a setup-payoff sub-thread -- two integral layers built into the story, giving it more complexity.

"Petrified Perfection" (#731)
written by George Stallings
drawn by Riley Thomson
(U.S. Br'er Rabbit weekly Sunday newspaper comic strip, May 17th, 1953) [newly titled]

Vintage Disney's Br'er Rabbit, a vintage Sunday newspaper comic strip -- how can one go wrong?!

"Why Robot" (#731)
written by Stefan Petrucha
drawn by Fabrizio Petrossi
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
(France. Le Journal de Mickey #2999, December 9th, 2009)

This story's appearance in the U.S. marks a throwback to the Gemstone days, which was heavy with 4-tiers-per-page modern Danish Mickey (and friends/family) stories. Petrucha was one of the writers whose stories were regularly used, and though Petrossi wasn't seen as frequently as Ferioli, he did make a showing, and I would say aesthetically was of that same school -- slick, smooth, and more (pupil-eyed) "Disney traditional" than their stylized Italian counterparts.

Not only is "buddy film"-esque scenario spotlighting Goofy and Horace as a comedic duo sans Mickey or any other regulars a novelty, but so is Horace receiving top billing, shared not. It's practically screamed in the reader's face that if their hosts aren't robots or haven't been body-snatched by aliens, then it's got to be some other equally familiar trope.  But it's not supposed to be an impenetrable mystery for the reader -- it's a farce, the crux of this outing being how, each for his own reasons that are innate but completely different from the others, this pair of sidekicks astray from their "alpha" are both oblivious to and hyper-suspicious of (in a justified but completely misguided way)  of their surroundings.

Because they're both played as fools, we expect all along that whatever accounts for their mysterious glimpses, fleeting window-facilitated of what they take as a "robot's shadow" is most likely innocuous. It shouldn't be a letdown when we're proven right, for all of the dark-and-stormy-night theatrics are meant as a joke -- a spoof -- reflecting each protagonist's childlike, misread perception of the situation and their wild, unfounded hypotheses.

The quintessential moment of this exercises in contrast is the simple-minded though humble nature expressed in Goofy's thought balloon and the overblown ego and self-deluded vanity rampant in Horace's.

-- Ryan

Saturday, May 7, 2016

New comic(s, two of 'em!) review: Uncle Scrooge #417-418 (IDW, April-May 2016)

Left: Cover for #417 by Alessandro Perina, from Topolino #2985.
Right:  Cover for #418 by Ulrich Schroeder and Daan Jippes. Original.

"Scrooge's Last Adventure" Parts 1 and 2 (#417-418)
written by Francesco Artibani
drawn by Alessandro Perina
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
new U.S. dialogue by Jonathan H. Gray
(Italy, Topolino #2985-2986, February 12th and 18th, 2013)

This is what the ill-paced, under-developed "Rightful Owners" four-parter of 2011's short-lived U.S. DuckTales comic should have been... and I think was trying to be. (Not to mention that Rockerduck unquestionably belongs in an Uncle Scrooge story, whether properly cast -- as he is here -- as one of Scrooge's arch-nemeses, whereas his comparable (unprecedented) involvement in "Owners" was... puzzling.) One of if not the most recent Italian duck stories that IDW has printed, it reveals that Italy's most popular comic is keeping pace with its American counterparts, in terms of "big", blockbuster-level stories that bask in the mythologies of the respective headlining stars and their universe, playing to a cumulative archetypal conception of them given a new spin, the figurative "money shot" being our hero faced with a harrowing day of self-reckoning and/or devastating crisis and defeat that speaks directly to and underlines their "core essence". Strictly in terms of Batman, a definitive example of this kind of thing would be "Night of the Owls"; or its slightly-less-modern (and now virtually legendary) progenitor, "Knightfall".

Getting back to the DuckTales comparison, I find it apt as even though the TV is now considerably more dated than I ever imagined it'd become, in conceit it was always a more Hollywood incarnation of the duck comics... and with "Scrooge's Last Adventure" (ahem, this 2013 Italian four-part serial, not the promising but sloppily executed 1990 DuckTales episode), that objective and approach has been reinvigorated and brought up to speed with competing popular fiction narrative-based entertainment.

Make no mistake, a part of me (a considerable part) is almost militant in my ideological inclination toward a Barksian-Rosian purism (the "-ian" part is quite deliberate -- far from rejecting anything not by the Duck Man and his celebrated #1 fan and successor, I embrace the European stories crafted by Jippes, Milton, Verhagen, Branca, Vicar, the Heymanses, etc. because of their familiarity to and with Barks' universe.

Nonetheless, how can I not enthrall to seeing my favorite characters in such a rollicking, accelerated, hyper-ized form so drastic and heightened in scope? Seeing the secretive reaching-out-and-assembling, hand-playing, give-and-take compromising that nets the super group allying of Scrooge's four unqualified hallmark arch-nemeses; the execution of their strategically coordinated, multi-front assault on Scrooge and his bin hinging on their game-changing role-switching; its paradigm-shifting success; the defeated, depressed Scrooge casting a pall over his shaken but (touchingly) supportive nephews, soon to feel the ramifications of the villains' triumph themselves; the concurring intricate clashes of wills, agendas, and statuses (the Beagles and Magica each in their own right tossed aside as tapped-out patsies "rewarded" with pointedly misfitting new trappings), exacerbated by their innate mutual distrust, forcing the web of inter-group conflict to thicken; and both fantastical, big-stage Magica-centered show-stoppers (in Part 1, a would-be-but-dud-fated Battle for the Ages over the dime in the bowels of Mt. Vesuvius; Part 2, a Tolkien-cum-Lovecraftian face-off with an apparently sugar-averse monster posted guard at the gates to the underworld of the sorceress trio comprised by Magica's superiors.

The answer? (Wuh...? ...ohhhhh, yeah! I was asking a question! Huh! Who could remember that?!) I have no choice but to -- there is no conceivable reality in which I cannot -- eat this shit up! I even -- for the first time, EVER -- not only accepted and was sold on Duck Avenger being a part of Donald's existence and Duckburg's schema... I found myself actually liking the whole deal! Hell, I was cheering him on!

Despite my excess use of flowery language, I'm absolutely not dressing up and agrgrandizing any of the scenes, concepts, characterization, or "ultimate character mythology moments" I've alluded to. I'm but recounting what's in the comics -- what Artibani and Perina are doing here, and doing in spades. The complexities of Artibani's ambitious overarching plot and its several inextricable subplots are the stuff of grand vision complemented by acute clarity and finely-honed execution. Perina's art is unmistakeably "duck comic Italian" in its late '90's/early '00's Cartoon Newtork-ness, but deceptive in its simplicity, for his action is fluid and precise, bolstered by his exacting, exceptional, original, rich-in-depth "camera angles". The latter, however, are so purely servile to the narrative, one doesn't notice them -- "cinematic" framing and composition is the post-Watchmen comics norm, but to employ this approach in a duck comic and trick you into thinking you're reading a more-or-less traditional shows the hand of an artist who in this respect is truly good.

Also and in kind, it's important to note how the state-of-the CG coloring done at Digikore Studios is as (pardon the expression) cartoonishly bright and "solid color"-predominant as we've come to expect of modern Disney comics, but the faux-shading is more sophisticated and nuanced than were these comics' four-color ancestors (even very recent one), but is subtly layered to the point where one is thinking, as he or she would in the Disney Comics era, "Hey, they're trying to be modern but its beyond their means." It blends in. It works. (E.g., the shadow that's fallen over Donald's house in the left foreground in just the opening panel of Part 2.) And it adds to that vivid, "rich", "cinematic" "depth" (quoting myself) in Perina's panels, working together for the comic, not against it.

(And those Seitler letterers, they're all on top of and "rocking it" in doing their job, too!)

A couple other "quintessential" bits/scenes that must be noted:

1. All of the duck family and a few familiar friends and acquaintances rallying around the resigned Scrooge at his and his nephews' place of refuge, Grandma Duck's farm can easily be transposed in my mind to being enacted by the "duck cast" variant that is DuckTales' cast.

2. In fact, much like the nephews, Launchpad, Mrs. Beakley, Webby, and Duckworth's visit to Scrooge's jail cell in DuckTales: The Movie reinvigorates him, quickly and decidedly resolving to double down, strike back, and WIN... in "Last Adventure" Part 2, the genuine, profuse concern and encouragement from the extended Italian comic book duck-family-and-friends lineup finally resonates with Scrooge, and he suddenly is restored to the tough-as-nails, ablaze-with-drive-and-determination Scrooge we know and love. I won't mince words: as an integral turning point crowned with an uinhibited, all-in McDuck rallying cry, it's absolutely, positively, wayyyyyyyyyyyy beyond kickass.

...oh, and before his rebound, said scene finds Scrooge pacing afret on a circular rug. Yes, there's a Barks precedent (unquestionably), but I couldn't help but let it evoke for me DuckTales' "worry room"... (I know, I know, I can't help myself...)

When I expressed to one of my grad school professors fondness for the '90's JLA arc "Rock of Ages", citing two specific intentional "quintessential, archetypes" (1. Part Two's cliffhanger ending, in which Batman -- cowl folded back, fully exposing the face of and giving way to the person of Bruce Wayne -- declares that he's going to revert Lex Luthor's thwarting of the League with something that "Bruce Wayne knows best -- corporate takeover" (sic). 2. The reveal, on a dystopian future Earth, that the elusive, anonymous mastermind running the rebel resistance from a computer terminal is a battered, hardened, aged Batman/Bruce Wayne), she remarked that the story as a whole was contrived, strung together by "those big moments", while the themes and seemingly key plot points said moments are meant to crystallize are inconsistently actualized throughout the rest of the serial. I had to admit that I could see her point, so I do at times worry that I'm letting myself be manipulated by the gimmicks that are in actuality what these"sweeps week"-type "event books" are built on. Maybe so. But in my assessment, if the plot can be looked at as a thin string of fan bait, at least with the IDW version, not one of the ultimate product's bones is lacking, thanks to the abundance of meat that is Jonathan Gray's dialogue, the numerous strengths and immense versatility of which has been praised here several times past.

By the way, here's a notably dark (for a duck comic)cover by Perina that was used on a 2014 Finnish book in which the whole serial was collected:

Pretty great, eh? Hopefully, IDW will appropriate it for either Part 3 or 4... or use it for the trade (which not only is an eventuality, but should happen, since a multi-part epic like this one presented in its entirety is originally what a "TPB" was for... and still the only purpose for which one makes sense.)

"Nothing Like It" (#417)
written, drawn, and lettered by William Van Horn
(New to the U.S. First appeared in 2009 -- the April 27th issue of Norway's Donald Duck & Co., Sweden's corresponding April 28th issue of Kalle Anka & Co., and the Danish Anders And & Co. equivalent, dated April 1st but designated by Inducks as the story's "first" appearance. Must have been determined alphabetically ('cause, you know, Anders).

Given how "Last Adventure" Part 1 ends aLocationnd how the immediately-following backup story, "Nothing Like It", begins, a new reader might think the latter to be some sort of "Last Adventure" sub-chapter taking place somewhere in the near-immediate wake of Part 1. (I'm quite sure this not literal but thematic unity was not overlooked by our editors.) New (to the States) Van Horn has become rarer and rarer, so this one's appearance here is certainly a happy occasion. Though relatively simple, modest, and low-key, "Nothing Like It" is simultaneously whimsical, absurd/surreal, eccentric-ly and uniquely funny, and genuinely original and unpredictable. Yes, all odds were that Scrooge could only be experiencing a dream, hallucination, transport to an alternate universe, or anything else but a genuine, real McCoy new day in his and Duckburg's reality (such as it), I couldn't for the life of me deduce what was actually going on or how Scrooge's dilemma would work out -- I was stumped! With the "lima bean and tapioca yogurt" callback and the self-in-joke wordplay to Scrooge's "wise adage" final line, the ending hits just the right spot.

 "For Whom the Belle Toils" (#418)
written by Dick Kinney
drawn by Al Hubbard
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
(Disney Studio program, new to the U.S. Per Inducks, first printing anywhere was in Brazil, 1970, but my alphabetical theory holds up (O before T), because said Brazilian printing was in what Inducks cites as the October 2nd, 1970 issue of that South American nation's O Pato Donald... yet the site likewise notes that its first Italian -- and, I decree, actual first-ever -- printing was in that same year's January 18th issue of Topolino. Unless I'm misinformed, January is the first month and October the tenth month of a given calendar year.) (Trivia gleaned from Inducks: Until now, Italy, Brazil, and Greece were the only countries to use the story, in 1976.)

Belle Duck is back, I found her more endearing than last time, the comedic twist on the last page and the "new anchor" callback closing gag actually amused me and didn't feel forced, and for the most part, Hubbard's ducks aren't looking more appealing and less weird to me. Pluses, all! (I know, sort of backhanded of me, though... I think I'm just restless in wanting to finally be done with this review...)

If a Belle-versus-Brigitta-for-Scrooge's-hand story has never been done, I guess I'll go on the record as saying that it wouldn't be a hopeless endeavor. By the way, re: Belle, think Kathy Bates' Jo Bennett of The Office but with a markedly higher sum measurement of the ingredient of sweetness.

-- Ryan

Thursday, May 5, 2016

American Mythology's Pink Panther #1 Free Comic Book Day 2016 (I just found out!)

Was just playing catch-up (what else is new?), and was surveying the 2016 Free Comic Book Day master list (it's this Saturday, May 7th), just about to conclude that there was nothing to my interest or worth my while this year, when "AMERICAN MYTHOLOGY| THE PINK PANTHER FCBD 2016 EDITION" caught my eye. Looked it up, and lo and behold, it's not a new itinerant of the live-action feature film-based franchise, but the honest-to-goodness, animated Pink Panther! Per this Bleeding Cool article, with this Free Comic Book Day issuing of issue #1, American Mythology Press is launching an ongoing Pink Panther!

I'm partial to this very DePatie-Freleng-esque Ant and the Aardvark cover:

Hopefully, come this Saturday, I'll luck out, and my dealer will have that last one. If not, I'll take what they have, and get my preferred one somewhere online afterward!


Some new, timely Disney comic reviews are coming -- well, there's some I really want to do, anyway!

-- Ryan