Sunday, July 27, 2014

Aladdin (the series) 20th anniversary -- Episode 7: "To Cure a Thief" (4/17/94)

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but when I first saw "Scare Necessities" (I actually saw that much later episode before I ever caught this one), Amin Damoola immediately struck me as a reincarnation of Dijon, and I've never been able to shake that impression. That's not to say that I am unaware of their fundamental differences: Dijon is sweet and childlike, while Damoola is surly, vindictive, and sleazy; and, as much as Amin would resent the fact, Dijon is actually a deft and talented pickpocket -- it's easy to imagine that for that reason, so as to make up for his own defincies, Damoola would try to sucker Dijon into an alliance, just as he tries to do here with Abu due to the monkey's proclivities. Nonetheless, I see enough of a resemblance -- two Middle-Eastern bottom-feeding street thieves who are lanky and quick-moving if not graceful in their sneaking; and each is played as an idiot with no handle on life outside of his chosen, er profession (and a certain one of them doesn't even have a handle on that) and as an ingrate lackey perpetually at the bottom of whatever pecking order -- that I can't help but wonder if the Aladdin team had Dijon in mind when they created Damoola.

With the plot springing from a character trait of Abu's that's actually an established, integral component of his character, this episode makes up for "Much Abu About Something" ten-fold. The whole ordeal with Aladdin and Abu's falling out -- which leads to Abu going down "the wrong path" and a guilt-ridden Aladdin desperately trying to locate, apologize to, and "save" his friend, culminating in the inevitable reunion -- uses cliché after cliché, if it's using a tired character arc that's one big cliché unto itself. When Abu, well along the way into aiding Damoola in his scheme to rob the palace treasury room, overhears Aladdin saying something that Abu mistakes to mean that he doesn't want to be friends anymore (while the viewer knows that Aladdin's feelings are actually the complete opposite), I had an, "Oh, come on, really?!" moment ... not just because I knew it was an unfortunate misunderstanding, but because I knew the writers were just following the playbook. I would question Aladdin's complete lack of sympathy for Abu's propensity for surreptitiously taking acquisition of things that don't belong to him, considering their shared "street rat" background ... but considering that I made a big stink in my last review about how Aladdin was shown as not being over things that I thought he'd gotten over n the original movie, I guess I should be happy in this case, eh?

Furthermore, the whole Aladdin-Abu arc isn't what frames the episode but not what truly carries or enlivens it; that honor belongs to the Abu-Iago -- and then Abu-Iago-Amin -- interplay, the portrayal of the low-IQ but volatile (er, second-tier) underworld at the Skull and Dagger, and Amin's attaining the power of the "Five Fingers of Dys-Count". Out of the episodes we've covered so far, I would actually say that the closest this one has to a kindred spirit is "Mudder's Day", due to the combination of inspired, relatively original fantasy concepts with comedic elements. The cultured, refined Al Muddy Sultan went against type by being cultured, refined in taste, and articulately spoken. Amin, in his low-rent nature and conniving, skulking, rat-like ways, and the other, more "jock"-like (I use that personification for the sake of illustrating the contrast due to Iago referring to Amin as the resident "geek" thief) crude, brutish thug patrons of the Skull and Dagger, on the other hand, play to type. It's easy to imagine them as, instead of a den of thieves, the crew of a pirate ship -- none of them exactly strike me as the leader type. They're a bunch of filthy, frothing, illiterate, ill-tempered, inarticulate, teeth-missing louts played frankly as goofballs. If Don Karnage or Duke Igthorn came in looking to hire a new crew and convincing them that they'd get their due compensation, they'd jump at the chance to be led.

Why, then, liken them to the Al Muddy sultan, who's an intelligent, independent leader with lackeys of his own? Because -- much as I can with Abis Mal, Iago if he were a human, and to an extent, Mechanicles -- picture them being played by character actors -- if the respective episodes were made as live-action feature films in the 30's through '50's. Why then, and not now? Because Hollywood comedy was clean in those days, and the comic performers used more slapstick and relied on exaggeration in mannerisms and in how they delivered their dialogue. It's not a far cry from a gaggle of 30's gangster led by "the boss" to the den of thieves found in the Skull and Dagger, is it?

And whereas I thought that the mountaintop village and tyrannosaurus rex (supposed) menace in "Much Abu About Something" were bland and generic, the golden, bejeweled "Five Fingers of Dys-Count" (re: its name, you can't say the writers weren't mindful of the "thieves" theme, eh?)  gauntlet (Amin Damoola is no Thanos or Mozenrath, as much as he desires power and ignominy) and Amin's performance once he dons it show a relative degree of imagination, inspiration, and cleverness, especially for a mere MacGuffin. The action is stylized, brisk, lively, and fun.

I especially like the exaggerated, jerky giant hand of coins that Genie arm-wrestles with (a bit more on this below), bringing to mind those shots of the Al Muddy Sultan's giant fist that I liked so much.

Also commendable is the succession of booby traps set off whenever someone touches the gauntlet while on its pedestal, which happens three times, each successive trap seen from three different perspectives. (But why, by the way, are no guards stationed at the treasure room? Not only that, why is it never locked?!)

On the subject of the traps, Amin and Iago, upon first meeting, discovering that separately, on the first two of these occasions, the same trap had given them "a little off the top" is a nice bit of setup and eventual payoff.

The depressed, shiftless Abu making it through the obstacle course of lethal traps without even trying is another quirky, slightly "edgy" bit ... but, what, is he supposed to be Gladstone Gander?! He's supposed to get away his many thefts because of skill, not luck! 

And, of course, I love Iago, having been sent to keep an eye on Abu by Aladdin and "keep him from stealing things" (WHAT was Al thinking?!), immediately encouraging Abu to steal them some desserts and praising him for it. This bit is a great tone-setting lead-in to Abu and Iago getting mixed up with Amin and his "seedy underworld". I'm not sure if Iago really deserves the blame he gets at the episode's end for Abu being "led" astray by the gang, but the writer's seem to want to keep Iago as the sponge for any instance of the main cast doing something morally ambiguous (or even amoral).

Genie watch: Genie’s “Educational film” at first hits the right note, but his "What is stealing? 1. [Recites definition]. 2. DON'T DO IT!!!!” seems forced -- it reminds me of something Tiny Toon Adventures would've done thinking that they were being hip.

But at least he has an ostensible purpose in this scene, and is shown as relatively intelligent and competent. Same goes for when he tries to cheer up and encourage Al … but his, "Ooo, that's bad!" reaction to Iago barging in and announcing Abu's predicament has that Tiny Toons feel, too. To my satisfaction, though -- as mentioned earlier -- he makes a very good show pitting his powers against those of the glove, and when he's thwarted, it’s very acceptable, because it’s magic vs. magic. If only the series had employed this principle more consistently.

-- Ryan

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The thief remains uncured... and once he is, only THEN can we say "Nefir"...

At the end of my last Aladdin review -- the one for "My Fair Aladdin" -- I stated that the following episode would be "Never Say Nefir". I was, in fact, mistaken: "To Cure a Thief" is due first. Having realized this just now, I'm kind of relieved, as I have an excuse to procrastinate until I've actually watched it, but still, I've been skimpy with the posts this month, so I really should have it up by tomorrow night. Yell at me if I don't. 

"I had the wrong episode, honest! Just give me another day, pleeeeeease, I'm beggin' you!" 

-- Ryan

Friday, July 18, 2014

Early Siegel and Shuster: erection joke?

Shorty sees attractive female. Shorty's "desk-top commences to slowly lift"? Er, there's only one way to take that (...but I thought he was "Shorty"...!)

...ohhh, THAT kind of, ahem, "snake". And, ah, he was "scared stiff", rather than "aroused stiff". I get it now. Makes sense. 

(From Slam Bradley -- "The Merrivale Mystery", Detective Comics #25, cover date March 1939 -- which, of course, was two issues before the debut of Batman!)

-- Ryan

(No, I certainly don't own this issue, nor any Golden Age comic, at present. Images obtained online.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on: Mickey and Donald #2 (Gladstone, cover date May 1988)

For the second issue of Gladstone's first double-billed (, only one has a bill...) ongoing title, the proper -- much more Gladstone I-esque -- front cover title logo is introduced; in his recreation of the 1948 Firestone Giveaway cover for M&D #1, which just happened to designate itself as Mickey and Donald, Daan Jippes closely mimicked the original's lettering design.

 This time out, we're treated to yet another vintage cover -- this time, a reprinting and recoloring (with some new background effects) of Walt Kelly's cover for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #41 (cover date Feb. 1944).

As we'd expect of Kelly, the art is full and rich, featuring very appealing renderings of the characters that are both iconic but not devoid of personality.

The gag that Kelly's drawing is based around is a variation of the familiar "Mickey as Golden Boy, whereas Donald exists so as to suffer" trope. I have to wonder, when did this whole thing actually begin? In the golden era of studio's theatrical shorts (i.e., "Clock Cleaners", "The Band Concert"), Donald was certainly the butt of his fair share of jokes, but Mickey was no charmed angel. From what I can surmise, it came about as the studio began producing fewer Mickey shorts, he -- as David Gerstein has described in his writings for the Gottfredson Library -- became more of a square, and then with the advent of the Disneyland/Walt Disney Presents/Wonderful World of Disney anthology TV series and The Mickey Mouse Club, in the way that the characters were portrayed in what original animated sequences there were, where Mickey is some sort of aloof, above-it-all ringmaster. All I can think of is the short (or was it something produced for the anthology series? That's the only place I've ever seen it, and I was very, very young) where Donald becomes insanely jealous of the nephews' enthusiasm for The Mickey Mouse Club, and hijacks the television set to replace it with "Donald Mouse!"

"The Grounded Air Taxi". 8 and 3/4 pages. Written by Call Fallberg, drawn by Jack Bradbury. From Mickey Mouse #64 (cover date Feb. 1959).

Speaking of Mickey as straight man ... no, I like this a lot more than the Bradbury story that led off #1. It features minimal adventure story trappings (unless you count a biplane), so it doesn't really disappoint. It's curious that Goofy seems to acknowledges Gottfredson continuity by suggesting that Mickey teach him to fly, but "preppy" Mickey has lost any of his plucky ambition, frequently lamenting in thought balloons things akin to, "Oh, great! ANOTHER one of Goofy's harebrained ideas!"; "I should get out of this before things go awry"; etc., even though he and Goofy mutually conceive of and pursue the ice taxi service. Mickey seems to subconsciously need to differentiate between himself and Goofy. Hmm, it seems he has a rather negative image of his supposed friend! Interesting. Very, very interesting. And telling. *takes notes*

A very simple story structure: on a couple of occasions, Mickey and Goofy (NOT Goofy alone, Mickey) lose control of the plane, and it wreaks havoc on around the lake, sending the ice fisherman and some children that had been building snowmen fleeing. Mickey and Goofy are forced to run and hide from an angry mob (who are so irate, one guy is ready to take his ax to the plane, paying no heed to racking up a vandalism charge), but everyone forgets that they were mad at them when they're able to use the plane's propeller to blow the snow off of some skiers who'd been buried in an avalanche. Interesting how the mob was out for blood, but then suddenly are so compassionate toward some complete strangers. Now, you could argue that in their eyes, the skiers were innocent, or at least hadn't "wronged" the locals the way Mickey and Goofy had, but, still, does the minimal effort Mickey and Goofy put into rescuing the skiers absolve them of their "crimes"?

On its surface, the story gives off an old-fashioned country homeyness; the aim is to instill in the reader's mind the picture of a morally black-and-white world, in which justice is so swift and prompt that if there's any sort of misunderstanding arising in animosity and conflict between individuals, someone else nearby will suddenly have their life placed in mortal jeopardy, allowing the innocent but socially-put-on-trial part(ies) to redeem themselves by coming to the rescue. And taken at face value, the plot is ready-made for a children's storybook, and charming in its rural winter setting. But it has a whole other side. The moral questions discussed above linger, and -- though fleetingly, and played off lightly -- we see man's base nature in all its rashness and fickleness. Disturbing, indeed., I'm kidding. I really did make these observations, but I'm not about to go all How to Read Donald Duck on you. That wouldn't be fair to the story's eight-and-3/4 pages, and I happen to like the old-fashioned country winter homeyness.

"A Sound Deal" by Van Horn.  4 pages. Original.

Essentially, a succession of gags each with the same motif: Donald, having taken up the job of bugle salesman, is at someone's doorstep, and each person, by their own quirk or distinguishing feature, rejects Donald or drives him away. Some of these gags are of the "Huh? Where'd that come from?" nature, but you can't say that any of them are unoriginal (except the vicious guard dog ... or is that a wolverine? Well, some sort of killer guard animal is still just as much of a cliche). The concluding twist is pretty much the very best that could be done with bugles being the sales item in question. Kudos to Van Horn, on the whole.

"Raven Mad". Story and art by Daan Jippes. Translation and script by Byron Erickson. Originally published in the 3/31/72 of the Netherlands' Donald Duck weekly. ("No. 13" on the cover, but that means its the 13th issue of 1972, which is why Inducks has it designated as "#1972-13", natch.)

Jippes doing a Mickey story! Why didn't he do this more/why doesn't he do it more! It looks GREAT! From very early in his career, so rough in comparison to his later work (especially, say, his Junior Woodchucks redrawings) -- but has more energy, momentum, elasticity, and dynamics than most anything else! The premise and gags wouldn't be much by a more limited artist, but Jippes REALLY breathes life into them. His Mickey reminds me of `40's Gottfredson ... though he's wearing the traditional red and yellow-buttoned shorts, they're "big" -- more pronounced at the bottom, bringing to mind Gottfredson's "pantsed" (I kind just made that up.) mouse. And this Mickey is no dull cipher leading a seemingly charmed existence -- he's prone to frustration, irritation, embarrassment, anger ... the story even ends with him in jail!

Just for kicks, let's look at a run-down of the comic in which this story originally appeared (cited above), per Inducks:

-- 3-page Donald story with art by Carol Voges

-- 2-page text piece using panel by Barks, Bradbury, and Strobl that seems to be some sort of faux newspaper about the Disney characters

-- Mickey strip from 2/22/62 -- I think this appears at the end of 2-page text piece

-- 4-page L'il Bad wolf story with art by Ed van Schuijlenburg

-- "The Looney Lunar gold Rush" Part Two (!!!) -- only 6 pages! They serialized it!

Only 20 measly pages. But with it being a weekly, they get more pages per month of one title than, on average, we ever have. But I would still be irritated to have the Barks stories broken up like that, and would envy Americans for getting them all in one book.

"Turkey Trot at One Whistle" by Barks -- Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #162 (cover date March 1954).

A 10-pager in which Donald is actually successful and heroic! A lesser-known story, yet with Barks, even those are gems. It's a train hold-up story with no irony intended, and its romanticism is catching. Some gorgeous scenic art.

There's two Donald Duck newspaper strips, one on the inside front cover, and the other on the outside back cover. Each is completely exemplary of its respective creators and era. Since there's only so much that can be said about them, I'll just show them to you...

Inside front cover (no letter column yet; old-school comic fans know the drill with letters usually appearing until a third issue) -- "The Bus Stops Here", 2/11/38drawn by Al Taliaferro, and Inducks says that the writing was by Homer Brightman (it seems that the original newspaper version's title was "Home, James!"):

And from the back cover (this would've appeared on all of Gladstone's books that month, so it's not really a proper part of this issue, but, aw, what the hell?) -- "The Ice Have It" 12/10/83, written by Bob Foster, art by Frank Smith:

Have a nice week, guys!

-- Ryan