Sunday, June 29, 2014

(Some of) of my assorted thoughts on: this blog's standing.

As we're jut a couple days away from it being halfway through 2014 (this past week, I was floored as it began to sink in that we're a few months away from being halfway through this decade), this is a good time to take stock of the progress this blog has made and map the road ahead.

Next up for Aladdin episode reviews is "Never Say Nefir", a great satire-oriented episode with excellent animation. The Gladstone (and other Disney comic) reviews will continue, since people like 'em. Ideally, I'd do one Aladdin review and one Gladstone review per week, but one or the other seems to be the most realistic. Whichever one it ends up being tends to be based on what I feel like or what I'm more caught up on in my reading and viewing. I think I will continue to operate that way, since I'll feel more pressure if I lock myself into a rigid schedule (e.g., alternating weeks between the two).

I've mentioned that these days, I post reviews without editing, since it takes long enough just to write them in the first place. However, I was just now adding tags to a few of the Aladdin reviews for which I'd originally forgotten to do so, and it struck me that the writing was barely intelligible. Any thoughts on this? (Hopefully, it's just me!)

On this blog, in the near-and-long-term future...

...more of THIS!

...and THIS!

-- Ryan

Attn: IDW or Dynamite Entertainment. A proposal: a Rocketeer/Tales of the Gold Monkey crossover mini-series!

Both being pulp revivals that premiered in 1982 (one as a comic book, one as a TV series), both set in the late 1930's (the era of the pulps), and both starring crack pilots, Stevens' Rocketeer and Donald P. Bellisario's Tales of the gold Monkey are true, er, brothers of another mother.

Although IDW has been publishing original (and exellent)  Rocketeer mini-series for the past few years, my first instinct was to think of this as a project tailor-made for Dynamite, with their numerous, successful pulp revivals (The Shadow, The Green Hornet, The Spider) and the critically-acclaimed crossover starring said characters and others.

However, IDW's The Rocketeer/The Spirit: Pulp Friction certainly looks good on their resume, making them an ideal candidate in their own right. And both have a stellar track record of producing comic versions of genre TV favorites old and new alike -- for example, IDW's various iterations of Doctor Who, Star Trek, and 24; and IDW's The Bionic Man, Dark Shadows, and Xena: Warrior Princess. I can easily see either doing a Tales of the Gold Monkey comic -- not only in the form of this hypothetical crossover, but as its own ongoing series -- to the point where I'm surprised that it hasn't already happened.

So, how about it, guys? I would think that either of you would be all over this!

-- Ryan

P.S. I'd say that TaleSpin should be tossed into the mix,but that'd have to involve alternate universe cross-travel, and would be aesthetically jarring. Perhaps an alternate version of Cape Suzette in the same universe as Cliff and Jake, but inhabited by humans, including human versions of Baloo, Kit, Rebecca, Shere Khan, et al? Louie and "Bon Chance" Louie would by necessity have to trade notes on running their respective establishments.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on: Mickey and Donald #1 (Gladstone, cover date Mar. 1988)

Mickey and Donald was, in a way, a quintessential Gladstone I publication; one of the Gladstone I-iest Gladstone I comics of them all. What makes that so? One factor is, of course, the combination of vintage mouse and vintage duck material, the latter -- if I'm not mistaken -- all by Barks except for various one-page gags and such, while Mickey was -- in contrast to the Gottfredson-dominated flagship mosue title -- represented by Western-derived reprints by Murry, Bradbury, Wright, and others. In fact, this premiere issue's proto letter-column', besides a preview image of #2's cover (taking up most of the page's space) and a boldface editorial introduction to all readers and boldface one-line response to the letter-writer, consists of a letter from a reader lamenting the loss of Mickey Mouse Digest and the absence of an alternative vehicle for such Western fare.

Add to the actual comic book content the familiar logo and issue price/indicia, title logo design, and Daan Jippes art on the front cover, and the familiar stoic but humble (giving the comics the dignity they deserve, but not forgetting their cartoonish nature) typeface used in for the letter column and for Cross Talk (and not to mention all of the intelligent, caring letters from fans the world over and the mastery of insight, information, and charming grace of Geoffrey Blum's Cross Talk writing), and you have a Gladstone I comic), and the wonderful texture and aroma of that newsprint, and you have a pure Gladstone I comic -- the most perfect comics ever produced.

As #1 was released in December, it featured a Jippes reworking of the cover to 1949's Firestone Giveaway #9, which Inducks credits to Jim Pabian. I have a sneaking suspicion that Gladstone scheduled this title's debut so as to be able to use this cover. For my money, Jippes' version is an improvement, with a better grasp on the characters' personalities -- esecially Donald's. The original looks like it was by a children's book author of the era who only knew how to imitate the characters' general appearances and draw them smiling.

Cover by Daan Jippes. Recreation/reworking of Jim Pabian's cover to Firestone Giveaway #9, December 1949.

"The Trail to Treasure". Art by Paul Murry. Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #242, cover date Nov. 1960. 8 pages.

I had expected to find that this was from a Dell or Gold key issue of Mickey Mouse -- I've always assumed that any Murry story originating in WDC&S would be a three-part serial. It was preceded by Murry's serialized re-drawing of "An Education for Thursday" and followed by the Fallberg-Murry three-parter "Mickey's Strange Mission" (which was in turn followed by another, "The Moon-Blot Plot" ... which appears to not have had anything to do with the Phantom Blot, alas), so perhaps it was a rare "refresher" perhaps Murry got going again ... or Fallberg wasn't available in time to start writing a new serial. (Both scenarios remind me of how creative team scheduling is done at the big modern comic publishers.)

Even as a child, I felt that Murry's stuff was benign and dull in comparison to Gottfredson's. I still have a certain respect for the serials, though. And even by that margin, this story is still toothless ... especially when you consider that its trappings, uncovered ancient hieroglyph tablets and our treasure-hunting heroes being kidnapped by pirates (led by a bland iteration of, as he's called here, Black Pete) are the making of a rollicking adventure, but instead, they're used to set up an overly cute ending gag. And the stuff on the island involving dropping the ancient artifacts down the mountainside on the opposing teams' heads is just too slapsticky for me.

"New Toys". Written and drawn by Carl Barks. Firestone Giveaway #49, December 1949. 8 pages.

All the charm and yuletide warmth of most of Barks' late `40's Christmas stories. With the nephews at first being greedy and materialistic, it's more akin to "A Letter to Santa", but in the end, when the nephews' give away their new toys to poor children sadly watching them playing, it turns out to have all of the optimism and good will toward men that Barks displayed in "A Christmas for Shacktown".

"Christmas Surprise". Art by Bill Wright. Firestone Giveaway #49, December 1949. 8 pages.

As Blum notes in "Cross Talk", by including this and the above story, this issue reprints the contents of FG #49 in their entirety. It's nice to see Wright art -- I've said before, as Gottfredson's former inker, he's the closest a Western mouse artist ever got to having a Gottfredson-like spark of life to them and a rich, flexible feel to the inking. Also, as essentially a domestic sitcom -- much like Barks' ten-pagers -- it doesn't set the reader up for disappointment the way that "Trail to Treasure" did. And there's real humor here, not cheap slapstick; Mickey's determination to keep Minnie's presents hidden and Goofy's determination not to let his friend down feel like "real" motives, and ring completely true of these characters as we generally know them. And Mickey and Minnie's discovery of Goofy in an unexpected place at the end is silly, but as a result of the character's earnest but self-complicated efforts, it's genuinely funny and endearing.

"Fir-Tree Fracas". Written and drawn by Don Rosa. Original. 4 pages.

Early Rosa. Poor Donald -- he thinks he's completely succeeded at something unique and commendable, only to have disaster fall upon his creation. Who knew that Christmas lights could be the cause of such a wide-scale disaster ... shown so effectively and striking in its devastation because, ironically, of Rosa's grid-like art, reflecting his construction background.

-- Ryan

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Aladdin (the series) 20th anniversary -- Episode 6: "My Fair Aladdin" (4/3/94)

To my delight and relief, the apprehension that I felt toward reviewing this episode, indicated at the end of my previous post, was baseless – the episode I was actually thinking was “Moonlight Madness”, which I remember as an absolutely lifeless, banal “Aladdin and Jasmine’s romance”-oriented episode. “My Fair Aladdin” is in fact a Mechanicles episode, an episode in which Iago is well-characterized and Genie is decently-characterized (at least at certain points), and an episode with just a smidgen of social satire – it’s all of these things, all of which are good. That said, it’s not by any means a perfect episode … but for me, what’s likable about it wins out over its flaws.

First off, with Aladdin’s “street rat” background, it’s logical that a culture clash would unfold when playing him off against some refined, mannered, hoity-toity types, and its fair game to exploit such a scenario to get an episode out of it. However, much like I thought that Abu was mis-characterized in a less-than-flattering way in “Much Abu About Something”, Aladdin’s lack of confidence here doesn’t sit well. What happened to the quick-witted, smooth-talking Aladdin from original feature film? Also, by the time the end credits of the latter had begun rolling, hadn’t he largely broken through the class barrier? True, that doesn’t mean he has the education or lifelong grooming in propriety that those in the royal echelon would, but he’d been getting along fine in the episodes we’ve seen so far, so this seems like an abrupt step back. Steve Roberts’ script would have come off better had it emphasized that Daru Tavelevil’s arrival on the scene had reminded him of his supposed cultural deficiencies.

Daru Tavelevil, who in this episode, a misled 
Aladdin sees as his doppelganger.

Perhaps the reason that I’m willing to overlook this awkward characterization is because by the end of the first act, the episode largely lets it go by the wayside. Besides Aladdin remaining in his fancy duds (the same as his “Prince Ali” get-up, which I actually had totally missed until Disney Wiki pointed it out to me), most of the episode is standard Aladdin-and-the-gang-take-on-Mechanicles-and-his-latest-scheme-and-contraptions fare. There’s really no through-line from Daru subplot through most of the Mechanicles scenes. Once Jasmine points out that Genie has taken a long time in returning from his investigation, Aladdin is initially reluctant to even pursue the matter – after all, traipsing off and getting his hands dirty on some rough-and-tumble adventure isn't for NPR listeners like him and Daru. Aladdin stubbornly avowing this change in disposition is exactly what I would’ve expected, but once Jasmine forces him onto Carpet, it’s pretty much dropped – from thereon out, Aladdin does the standard hero thing, without any hesitation or protest. After all, once the episode was moving, it had to go through its paces and wrap itself up in 22 minutes – feeding the machine, as Tad Stones put it (and I seem to reference in virtually every post that's part of this ongoing project).

Apparently, Aladdin has forgotten the lesson he learned from
going through that whole big musical number in the movie.

The Daru subplot does wrap up with the rest of the episode, but practically as an afterthought – it comes out that his elitism was a farce (isn’t it always?), and that he in fact was the source of the material Mechanicles used to build his giant mechanical centipede, a deal which Daru saw through with little to no ethical qualms. The “Daru wasn’t all he was cracked up to be”/“Aladdin’s a real, genuine, person, and Daru was just a big faker” lesson was inevitable, but what’s surprising is that it plays out with Daru completely off-screen. As his transaction with Mechanicles is past-tense, I don’t know how a “caught in the act” moment would’ve worked, but it certainly seems like it would’ve been more dramatically effective. And Aladdin’s self-realization would’ve had more gravitas if Daru had been present for the whole ordeal with the centipede, with the two psychological rivals somehow competing. Of course, Daru would never see fit to soil his dainty little hands with such boorish undertakings, and if he were at hand, his cowardice and his likely lacking physical prowess would be readily apparent, so how he would’ve been able to continue making Aladdin look inferior would’ve been a trick … and that’s probably why Roberts had him stay behind at the palace in the first place. Still, the revelation that he’s a fraud and a dirty dealer barely registers when he hasn’t been in play since the end of the first act. The way that this crammed-in game-changer information is very succinctly (to the point where it’s no more than a blip) imparted only through dialogue, and we only see Daru again in a hurried, closing gag depicting his punishment, feels much like the accelerated endings to many Silver Age comic book stories, the type that would occur when the writer and/or artist realized that they were quickly running down their allotted page count.

More of a plot device than even an incidental character (especially given his lasting invisibility), where the episode comes up short in using him as a foil for Aladdin, he is used wonderfully to facilitate Iago’s role in the episode. The endearingly surly parrot’s “Awww, don’t sweat it, kid, this stuff is all about FAKING it!” approach to coaching Aladdin’s in the ways of the aristocracy is a very fitting, sharp bit of characterization. I extend my kudos to Roberts for glomming onto and running with this take on the character, and to Gottfried for bringing Iago’s lines to life with such, er, zest. (Iago/Gottfried detractors might call it something else…) To anyone from a working class background who went into their 20’s thinking that hipsters, academia, and Northampton, MA-area earthy-crunchy types just had to be the bee’s knees, only to later come out of their 20’s utterly disillusioned with such parties, Iago’s observations are aglow with more than just an ember of truth. (Iago’s flippant response to Jasmine’s horror at learning of Daru’s betrayal, “Yeah, but think of all those jobs he created!”, is far and away my favorite line of the episode. While he meant it facetiously, it reminds me of how the demographics alluded to above see “their” politicians as squeaky-clean, when they’re in reality just as corrupt and dirty-dealing as their supposed foes. Harry Reid’s fake moral outrage at the Koch Brothers, and how his na├»ve supporters believe he means it, is the kind of thing that I have in mind here…) (I know, I know, per the laws of time and space, that can’t possibly be what Roberts had in mind; just some free association on my part…)

"Stick with me, kid, and you'll have 'em 
eatin'outta your hand!"

Iago letting it slip that Aladdin isn’t the first ill-mannered boor that he’d gifted with the Scroll of Witty Quotations, but that he’d also exposed Daru to it is one of those “Man, Iago really can be a bastard” moments. His redemptive moment – dropping the rock on the only remaining and functioning part of Mechanicles’ centipede, its head – is both ham-fisted and (like so much else in the final act) rushed and under-developed. (Would that one little pebble REALLY put that formidable, iron-wrought machine on the fritz? Well, I guess, from what’s shown – the rock strikes the head’s protruding “stickler”, throwing it off balance, jamming it stickler-first into the ground [seems to be a running theme…], forcing Mechanicles to push some sort of “eject” button, sending the off-axis contraption careening off into the sunset … but it all happens so fast,  before a close re-viewing, I was under the impression that the rock basically “took out” the whole kit and caboodle…) 


Presumably, Iago’s off-screen backstory encounter with Daru took place even before the original feature film (because of the wording, I actually didn’t even at first realize that he meant he’d given Daru the scroll before the events of this episode), so can’t we write it off as having happened before Iago had reformed anyway?

A prime Iago-Abu moment transpires at the episode’s climax, right after Iago rescues Abu, and the former quickly sees fit to renounce the relief he’d expressed a moment earlier, as the latter in kind renounces his corresponding gratitude. 

"I'd rather not have been saved at all 
than be saved by YOU!"

Let us not forget that this is a Mechanicles episode. Obsessed with turning the desert to glass so that it's surface is smooth, much like he can't stand wrinkles in his clothing, Mechanicles is more unbalanced and volatile in his obsessive-compulsive neuroses than he was in "Getting the Bugs Out".

 I do wish that there were more intricacy and finesse in the design and animation of the centipede. Those stubby little legs and their stunted walk don’t do justice to what’s supposed to be Mechanicles’ ingenuity or to the aesthetic I believe that the production team is going for. But, I suppose we can’t expect full-on Hayao Miyazaki-type visual splendor in a `90’s weekday American TV cartoon.

(One of the episode's better rendering's of the 
giant mechanical centipede, IMHO.)

 (Yuck, those legs. Must've been a bitch to animate.)

The opening scene, set at a sand dune under the desert moon, where two nomads have a run-in with the centipede, is rich with that mystic, ancient-desert-of-legend ambience that the series has knack for imparting. Most of what follows isn’t so as atmospheric, alternately concerned with mundane situations and standard good guys-versus-bad guys kidvid fare. 

However, there are traces of an effort to build a sense of mystery and intrigue: Razoul and the other guards are put to nice use in the very fleeting scene in which they follow up on the reports of “glass sand”, only to quickly be sent by the mechanical centipede hightailing it back to Agrabah. I like the idea of them as a defense squad on a reconnaissance mission to determine the existence and viability of a supposed external, possibly encroaching threat. They’re played as buffoons for comic relief here (in sharp contrast with how bloodthirsty Razoul was in Return of Jafar and, to a lesser extent, in “Mudder’s Day”), and so the opportunity to pile on the sense of a looming unseen menace is largely squandered. But I do approve of this conception of how the kingdom is run, even if it’s only suggested here.

(Note the similarity in the guards' first reaction shot -- the wide shot, not the 
half-shot that follows -- and that of the nomads, further up. 
Not sure if the parallel was intentional, or if it was just laziness, 
falling back on what's known to work.)

Genie watch: He has his down moments here, for sure, but this is may just be his best performance in any of the episodes we’ve seen so far. In his first scene, he actually plays it straight for a couple lines, trying to console, reassure, and pep-talk Aladdin; we see far too little of their friendship in the series.

His subsequent earnest assuming of the role of butler to the newly-debonair Aladdin’s butler is both funny and charming … mainly because it stems from Genie’s affection for his friend, rather than being just another generic impression.

"HOLD IT!!! My master knows which 
forks are for what now!!!:

Later, as expected, he indulges in the kinds of impressions and “costumes”/alternate forms that he’s prone to, but on not just one but several occasions, he actually uses them circumstantially in trying to achieve something that’s actually logical, and a few times, actually succeeds! He even gets a “solo” scene, tasked with investigating the mystery of the-sand-that’s-turned-to-glass. Donning the guise of first a weather-tracking helicopter, then a traffic cop, and finally, a TV news reporter are actual intelligent and purposeful choices. 

His intermittent moments of incompetence throughout the very same bit – diving headfirst from a cliff and getting lodged head-first in the sand, getting burnt to a crisp in classic Looney Tunes/Tex Avery-fashion by the fire-blaster in the centipede’s mouth, and being duped into the glass bottle – are painful to behold … and the former two are completely unnecessary, as there already is sufficient humor in Genie’s more typical antics; and Roberts could have actually had it be difficult to trick Genie into the bottle.

But Genie in good form, as he is in the aforementioned “good” examples, is so rare in this series, that I’m practically ready to celebrate this sequence.

It seems to be a rule of the series that any Genie can be trapped in any bottle or oil lamp, but I do wish they’d have spelled this out at the get-go. At least in having Genie’s disappearance be what spurs the rest of the gang to go look into matters for themselves, he’s actually for once a character that the others care about, and not just a walking provider of gags. 

Finally, he is absolutely on his A-game (in more ways than one), when at the episode’s climax he takes on the visage of a basketball player and takes out the centipede’s now-separated segments by slam-dunking rounded rocks into their, er, smokestacks with complete competence, grace, and success. 

If only he were to have more frequently been written using his shape-shifting/impersonation powers as competently and effectively as he does here.

-- Ryan

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Aladdin (the series) 20th anniversary -- Episode 5: "Much Abu About Something" (3/27/94)

A confession: the reason that it's taken me so long to get around to this episode is that I just am not very enthusiastic about it. So, to quote Peter Griffin, "*exhales disdainfully* Okay -- let's just get through this."

In the same way that "Fowl Weather" was centered around Iago, this is basically an excuse for an Abu-centric episode; a contrived plot in which something arbitrarily happens to him, rather than a series of events "organically" arising because of him ... or, if you will, an integral phase of his character arc (of which there really isn't one in the first place). An obligatory attempt at character development is forced upon is in the form of Abu's resentment over never being listened to and Aladdin always speaking on his behalf. Um, okay ... it always seemed to me that the scrappy, self-sufficient Abu had no problem communicating with others what and when he wanted to just fine. The conditions that he "overcomes" in this episode had actually never existed before, and so the premise is actually a degradation of his character.

In this rare Abu-centric episode, Abu's 
portrayal allows him the dignity that he deserves.

"Fowl Weather" was still a likable episode because of its whimsical concept and visuals and the lively comic interplay between Iago and Thundra. But "Much Abu" really has nothing going for it. The mountaintop village, its resident prophet, and their generations-lasting predicament are bare-bones and sub-interesting in their under-development. There's nothing funny about Abu being heralded as a long-awaited savior and being crowned and given a throne. In fact, that this trite mockery is supposed to be funny is actually insulting.

That guy is a pale imitation of the gentle wise elder type.
And that mountain doesn't seem very natural, does it? 
And is that supposed to be its nose?

Tad Stones once again found that "the machine needed to be fed", and was unable to get around his aversion to big monsters. Having the obligatory monster be a Tyrannosaurus rex seems to be an attempt at doing something original and unique. But, like many of the series' incidental monsters, its design is ugly and rushed, and rather than coming off as a larger-than-life menace, it's presentation is completely under-whelming.

He's not very scary, is he?

Perhaps the production team had considered doing a "lost valley of dinosaurs" episode, but never fully-developed into it, and so decided to salvage what they could of it here. Though the "lost valley" idea is a tired trope, it still could've been an inspired episode, if the right inspiration hit the creators and some real effort were put into it. But it also could've been a total flop. In that case, or if they actually had never intended to do such an episode, I guess it's just as well, as the monster here had to be something...

But then, did the tribe's plight even have to involve a giant monster? How about for centuries, their mountain had been surrounded by, I don't know, a sea of lava, and no one else had ever even known they were there, and the prophecy was that Abu would find a way to open a floodway from the real ocean to their valley, washing away the lava? I mean, that's not the greatest idea ever, but as far as avoiding the old big monster fallback, it's a start!

Okay, I think that about covers it. *phew*, at least that's over with. What's up next? ...ugh, "My Fair Aladdin"? Hoo, boy, I'm gonna have to slog my way through a lot of this project, aren't I?

-- Ryan

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A heavy metal artist has made an album of songs based on Don Rosa stories! Yes, really!

I don't remember why now, but a couple of weeks ago, I was Googling "Last Sled to Dawson", and as I typed it in, one of the "predictions" that came up was "Last Sled to Dawson lyrics". That gave me pause. There's a song with the same title as one of my favorite stories? I decided to pursue the matter ... after all, Google was inviting me to.

My first move was to pull up the lyrics. From the first two verses, it was apparent that the title wasn't a coincidence -- the song was definitely based on Rosa's first sequel to a Barks classic:

There's gold, and it's haunting and haunting
It's luring me as of old!
Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting so much as finding the gold!
It's the great, big, broad land `way up yonder!
The great, broad land `way up yonder

Haunting him as of old
Yet, it ain't the gold itself
So much as finding the gold
Farewell, White Agony Creek
Farewell, the three long years
Can't leave behind what's in this sled

And besides the dead-giveaway mentions of "finding the gold", "Can't leave behind what's in this sled", and especially "White Agony Creek" -- and the sentiment of "It's the great, big, broad land `way up yonder", which evokes one of the flashbacks early in Rosa's story --  the lyrics to me immediately had an eerie, timeless air to them, that for me, was tapping into the emotional and mythic arc of Rosa's narrative.

Still, I was figuring that this was an obscure song by some folk and/or "adult contemporary" artist that had been released at some point years ago, and no one who's heard it was aware of what had inspired it.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It belongs to an album that in in its entirety is based exclusively and explicitly on Rosa's "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck" ... and it was released just last month! And Don Rosa came out of retirement to draw and paint the cover! See:

It's a solo release by Tuomas Holopainen, of the Finnish "operatic power metal" band Nightwish, who back when I was into goth music I'd heard of, but wasn't familiar with. Holopainen is a self-proclaimed huge Don Rosa fan, and had the idea for this album back in the `90's, when he first read Rosa's 12-part odyssey.

As unlikely as Holopainen's admiration and his ultimate collaboration with Rosa may seem, it makes sense when you remember how popular duck comics, and Rosa in particular, are in Finland. Apparently, everyone there really does read them!

Music videos for two of the songs -- including "The Last Sled" -- can be found on YouTube:

"The Last Sled":

"A Lifetime of Adventure":

For me, this style of music is a little too synthetic and overwrought. However, I certainly appreciate and identify with where Holopainen is coming from, to say the least. I may even just order a copy of the cd.

-- Ryan