Monday, September 21, 2015

New comic review: Donald Duck #370 (IDW, July 2015)

"The Siege of Nothing Atoll" (this titular pun I'm assuming is the work of Thad Komorowski, the story's English dialogue scribe [Edit: It's not Thad's! See his comment below.]), dating from 1976, is much earlier than most of the Cavazzano-drawn stories that we've seen lately, only a few years out from his original gig as Romano Scarpa's inker (which lasted from 1961-71, per Inducks).

Apparently, at this point, Cavazzano had not yet developed the more blocky, jagged style that he is known for: the line work here has a sketch-like but fluid quality and is richly inked, and I would go so far as to describe the poses as squash-and-stretch, as they're about as close to being animated as they can get without actually being animated... and by "poses," I'm not just talking the characters: what should be solid, unyielding objects and geological structures are personified and characterized with human behaviors. (Well, okay, the mad scientist had actually built his island, which I guess accounts for the volcano's belching and other utterances.)

After the story's mysterious, intriguing setup, which actually takes place on a dark and stormy night at an airfield, the atmospherics played up in Cavazzano's eerily-lit "sets", the plot is as simple as can be: Donald and Fethry track the source of Scrooge's missing planes to... not a sea monster eating Scrooge's ice cream, but a mad scientist's faux island base, where they find he's planning to take over the world... from which they stop him by blowing up the island. Really, that's it! The mad scientist, cackling and boasting with much bravado of his as-basic-as-they-come world takeover ambition and scheme, epitomizes and even overdoes the "mad" part of his job description -- more so than any other mad scientist I've seen in quite some time. The gleam in his eyes and the gape in his front teeth make him look more like an escaped mental patient than the usual backstory of a respected scientist who cracked -- it's not that hard to imagine that his long white lab coat is actually a straightjacket, of which he'd managed to untangle and modify the sleeves.

That's not to say that the story isn't a fun read, though -- it is, largely because, visually, it's a sheer, unabashed delight, thanks to Cavazzano's dynamic, sizzling art: there's numerous splash panels, all of which are so vast in scope and intricate in the action (barely) contained therein, they're a veritable sensory overload to behold. Visually, the cinematic tropes hit the rights notes for an espionage-tinged sci-fi adventure, from the urgently scrambling and bewildered air traffic control crew handling an atypical emergency to the villain's laboratory-cum-missile-silo lair, which has a Cold War Bond-ian feel to it. (In the former scene, I loved the dead-serious, intolerant-of-mistakes Scrooge snapping at the crew and acting like lives are at stake -- even though the pilots of the downed planes have all returned safely -- and then collapsing into jelly when he realizes that the unseen enemy has seized one of his planes yet again.) Surprisingly, Fethry doesn't get to annoy Donald very much in this story, but as with the T.N.T. stories, sending them on a duo mission has a charming "buddy flick"-esque road trip feel to it. The Looney Tunes-esque "blackout" gag sequence encompassing Donald's successive attempts to breach the villain's island were especially fitting, given that the story's dominated by squash-and-stretch-esque visuals. I could go for more like this!

 As I always try to note, with their backup features Gerstein and his editorial team make it a point to account for the "classic" era of American Disney comics. Here, they deliver with a rather good two-page Al Taliaferro gag from Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #102 (1949) in which Donald tries to cut corners in his garbage disposing, which he finds decidedly not to have been worth it when punishment is dished out upon him by a fed-up citizen. (Although, life ever treating him unfairly, Donald is being blamed for a bunch of stuff that others did before him, and to which the severity of the punishment is roughly proportionate, rather than to his meager, one-time [to date, admittedly] offense.)

I honestly didn't realize that Taliaferro had created gags like this one exclusively for WDC&S; I've always thought they were reformatted Sunday pages.

-- Ryan

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Ryan