Monday, August 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Ryan

1 comment:

  1. Part of why I liked the story so much was how the combination of the script and the art resulted in an almost "thematic" experience for a simple, but well excuted plot. ( Along with an excellent localization by our good buddy Joe Torcivia )