Thursday, December 10, 2015

Recent comic review: Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #722 (IDW, August 2015)

 Part 2 of "The Search for the Zodiac Stones" finds Mickey and and Goofy exactly where at the end of Part 1 they announced they were going next: Brazil. Goofy admiring a street vendor's display of local pottery and various other "souvenirs" while Mickey stands by, urging him, "Hey, we've got to get goin'!" may sound too casual for a splash panel opener, but Massimo De Vita's art is rife with so much activity, using arresting, dynamic perspectives and original, specific poses and expressions, it works fantastically.

Over the course of the next several pages, Mickey and Goofy meet Tex "Eagle-Eye" Tuckaree, a scatter-brained pilot they're chartering to fly them to the Stickaree village. The ensuing flight, culminating in a head-on crash smack-dab into the jungle, is as tumultuous as our heroes had feared, but to the reader, the sequence is entertainingly rife with first-rate quirky, comedic action. If "Eagle-Eye" (perhaps the best part of that name is not its intentional irony, but how Jonathan Grey's narration toys with said irony) reminds one of Launchpad McQuack, he should -- and indeed, Grey makes the allusion. (It would have almost been a crime not to.) In the flashback relating how Tex lost his eye-sight -- and, it would seem, his mind -- which thus ended his stunt pilot career, it's impossible not to think of Launchpad's backstory as having been one of the Flying McQuacks before he went solo.

The flashback ends with perhaps Grey's most priceless line of the issue (and there's a lot of good ones to choose from): "See how sad that story wasn't? Don't you feel awful for laughing?" In fact, put that way, I'm not sure how I can reconcile how charming, amusing, and fun I found the Tex Tuckaree sequence! However, I do feel vindicated in my having noted that it looks like there's going to be wacky, Rocky and Bullwinkle-esque aspects to this serial

Grey, a proven ace with references (one to a certain kaiju, and at least two in-jokes related to Mickey himself), wordplay ("blights, terrors, and terrored blights!"), and just plain colorful language ("Sweet babies!"; "THUNDERDUNK!"). But he exercises discretion and holds a delicate balance, playing it straight when called for -- notably at moments when plot logistics are established, such as the information the Stickarees share with Mickey and Goofy that allows them to pick up the trail they're following anew, or the news given to them by Cal and Cab about the sale of the Scorpio piece. But playing it straight doesn't necessarily mean playing it dry; as no-frills a line as Mickey's "They left with a canoe, so their trails can't be that cold!" might be, it certainly sounds like the scrappy Mickey we know. (Imagine if he'd said, "It appears that they have taken a canoe, which means that at this point, they cannot be very far ahead of us." Yuck!")

Visually and conceptually, the fantastical, even "trippy" Scorpion Valley sequence -- with its abundance of fumaroles ("baby volcanoes", per Goofy) spewing a gas that induces alarming ocular distortions character by scale wonkery -- is originally and intelligently conceived, especially considering the scientific explanation for -- and solution to -- how the illusions are chemically manifested. Mickey and Goofy going through the process of suffering the effects of the fumes and then figuring their way out of and overcoming this hallucinogenic trap follows a tight narrative arc that's near-perfect in its build-up and unraveling.

And finally -- what, you thought I actually wouldn't cover this -- there's the delightful surprise that comes right after Mickey and Goofy leave the Calloways' camp: their running into Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews, in the middle of one of their adventures, but one that's been going on without the reader being privy to it -- until the moment at which Mickey and Goofy join in! I knew that the ducks were going to be in this multi-part epic, but I wasn't expecting them in this installment. Thus, their reveal genuinely threw me for a loop, but in a very, very good way! Grey made it all the more sweet with his dialogue for the (highly personalized, descriptive) greetings exchanged between first Mickey and Donald, and in the next panel, Mickey and Scrooge.

Leading up to this chance meeting of major players, the reader was teased with the Stickarees' and Calloways' accounts of the "band of five" whose trail Mickey and Goofy are following.  Due to a loss in translation, Mickey suspects Pete and some of his known accomplices and sidekicks, whom Grey has Mickey name (or rather, has Mickey think, think, via thought balloon) as treat for the fans... that is, presuming these references are original to this version. I wonder how in the original version Mickey's elusive was described by the respective witnesses and what were Mickey's thought balloon speculations as to the identity of the group he's tailing.

This all-star team-up nearly eclipses the cliffhanger ending that follows. But let us not overlook yet another example of De Vita's talent -- using a heavily stylized, jagged style that imparts a throbbing jerkiness, the chaotic, violent energy of this geological upheaval almost rages out of the panel borders and off of the page.

One quibble: in Part 1, the Aquarius piece is referred to as Cab's. Here, it's Cal's, the Scorpio piece being cab's. A mistake that will be corrected in the trade, I presume?

At a short but busy, expediently-but-evenly-paced four pages, Evan Geradts and Freddy Milton's "Open Door Policy" follows the Beagle Boys as they steal one of Gyro's latest (considerably more magical-seeming than usual!) inventions in order to use it to -- what else? -- rob the money bin. Being able to effortlessly make their own instant-entrance to the bin is virtually a Beagle's dream come true. There wouldn't be very much conflict if at first they didn't make off with some of the cash, but after some initial freaking out, Scrooge ultimately manages to thwart, in a wildly ironic, perfectly fitting way. This resolution -- like the rest of the story -- plays out with "wham, bang, done" pacing that conveys the Beagles' fated comeuppance in a particularly lucid, stinging way. Maura McManus' dialogue is modest but witty (and in-character), suiting the story quite nicely. E.g., the descriptive, silly names for several of Gyro's silly invention; or the last line of the story, Scrooge, gloating to the Beagles over his foiling them, making a "door pun" that's grin-inducing in a "Oh, you just HAD to, didn't you?" way.

Two gag pieces -- one duck, one mouse -- fill out the issue. In Al Taliaferro's "Demolition Donkey", a sportswear salesman is left baffled by Donald without explanation returning one sport's uniform amd exchanging it for that of a completely, drastically different sport.

Though Mickey behaves uncharacteristically childish in Merrill De Maris and Manuel Gonzalez's 1939 Sunday "Minnie Can't See", it definitely makes sense that the robust, active, outgoing Mickey of the strips -- as established by Gottfredson -- would be too restless to spend a day at the beach just loafing, as Minnie expects him of him. Here, she's prissy and preoccupied with social acceptance (a characterization more often used for Daisy, but not without precedent for Minnie). After seeing her act snippy and condescending toward Mickey, one's spite is rewarded (Mickey clearly enjoys it, too! by her obliviousness in the last couple panels that she herself is the object of the crowd's mocking laughter.

-- Ryan

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

(Recent) comics review: Ghostbusters: Get Real #1-4 (complete mini-series, IDW, June-September 2015)

Although IDW's Ghostbusters comics of the past few years have overall been quite good, at times I couldn't help but wonder, "Well, if they're going to be drawn in a cartoony way... in fact, if they're going to be drawn, period, why not just do The Real Ghostbusters?" While that may not appeal to some fans, who would prefer the movie GBs -- which is what IDW has been doing, kind of -- by and large, my nostalgia for the franchise lies in growing up on DiC's animated series. I have no shame in sharing that when reading the IDW comics, the voices I hear in my head aren't those of Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis, and Hudson, but of Coulier, Welker, LaMarche, and Hall.

(The cover used for the first issue's 2nd printing, 
appropriating the splash panel that closes 
the first installment, sans word balloon.)

Though Get Real can be viewed as a novelty project (and possibly the most redundant [non!]-crossover of all time, especially when you consider that the IDW Ghostbusters can never really [no pun intended] be the movie ones!), it sure has been nice to see "The Real" guys again, especially given how Dan Schoening's renderings and Luis Antonio Delgado's coloring makes them look so much like their animated selves of 25-30 years ago... but with the color palette being much richer, honestly. Same goes for the backgrounds, in particular, the animated universe's firehouse.

As well-done as writer Erik Burnham's appropriation of Greek gods Proteus (the main villain) and Ananke (in a smaller, more heraldic role, in Hero's Journey terms) is, they serve in an ancillary capacity, providing a plot vehicle for what everyone's really (cough) reading for: the IDW/psuedo-movie Ghostbusters meeting and interacting with their animated counterparts. Burnham, of course, knows these characters inside and out, and so he nails setting them up as foils for themselves: the Rays sharing in their enthusiasm and sense of wonder, the Egons working together on the scientific and technical matters of their universe-crossing dilemma, the Winstons sharing in their everyman skepticism, and most bitingly, the Peters finding each other to be insufferable jerks.

As someone who even as a child thought that the interior of the animated Containment Unit was some sort of physics-defying vast, dreary realm functioning as some sort of ghost purgatory -- and not simply compounded, locked-down spectral energy -- was a stupid idea, the mini-series' most priceless moment, far and away, is as follows: the animated Peter asking the IDW/movie Egon if he's ever taken any "trips into the containment unit". The reply? An absolutely dry, flat, "It doesn't work that way." Oh, sweet, sweet vindication!

I'm hoping this is prelude/precedent/way-paving for a new, ongoing Real Ghostbusters comic. Please, IDW, make that a realality!

-- Ryan

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

(A semi-recent) comic review: The X-Files Annual 2015 (IDW, July 2015)

Released between the final issue of Season 10 and the first of Season 11, Annual 2015's "Most Likely to..." is a standalone, complete exception to the ongoing storyline(s) in the regular comics, I suspect designed to give the regular team a break after Season 10's big finale and a chance to get their bearings so as to begin the current "season".

As established by the opening panel's caption, the story takes place in summer 1999, which would set it sometime during season seven (but definitely before its final episode). Despite my and others' negative connotations, the story tonally and thematically evokes seasons six and seven.  In the real world, at the time the story occurs, the seventh's first run would have just finished up in May. Thus, "Most Likely"'s place on the timeline is fitting both internally and externally (if you're able to follow what I mean by that...)

For better or for worse, like many of the "MotWs" of those two seasons, "Most Likely" indulges in some cutesy toying around and teasing in regards to the (at that point only and heavily fan-fantasized) prospect of Mulder and Scully being in a relationship. Also like those (to me, justly) maligned two seasons, it "whimsically" and kitsch-ily embraces a particular element of pop culture -- here, though an anachronism, cable reality shows such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures that would become popular late in the following decade -- and has a more upbeat, Hollywood-ish tone. Though it by no means has a happy ending, it does have a clean, polished -- family-friendly even -- quality in the "neatly tying it all together" ending, with Mulder delivering a "solemn", "reflective" overview of his conclusions re: the case, expressing an allegory that suggests a karma-based fate/resolution for its subjects.

Though the theme of a high school outsider vs. the popular kids has -- it's safe to say -- been done to death, and despite the questionable aspects of the "geek" being the football star's "sidekick", writer Mike Raicht's variation of this old tune is original enough. Mulder and Scully's encounters with the concerned individuals' parents -- depicted in a state of enduring sadness and brokenness in the wake of the backstory's central events -- evoke the drearier take on domestic suburban America of earlier seasons. And the mild twist of the "truth" -- the specifics as to what happened to the kids, which entail the requisite "unexplained phenomena" -- that's revealed at the story's end admirably strikes me as just like something the show would have done. And Kevin VanHook's art, which is more showy and bulbous and much less minimalist and diminutive than that of the regular comics, it's more, er, extroverted nature fits the seasons-six-and-seven orientation of the story.

-- Ryan