Saturday, May 21, 2016

New comic(s -- in total, 2) review: Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #730-731 (IDW, April-May 2016)

Right: Cover for #730, drawn by Henrieke Goorhuis, colored by Ronda Pattison. Original.
Left: Cover for #731, drawn by Massimo Fecchi, colored by Mario Perrotta.

"The Search for the Zodiac Stone" (#730-731)
Chapter 10: "Blondbeard's Pirate Plunder"
Chapter 11: "The Partners of the Pendant"
written by Bruno Sarda
drawn by Franco Valussi
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
U.S. dialogue by Jonathan H. Gray
(Italy. Topolino #1789-1790, March 11th and March 18th, 1990)

Eleven issues ago ( time has flown!), I wrote about the advent of the U.S. premier of "The Search for the Zodiac Stone" in terms of expecting some sort of cosmic-in-scope, "ultimate"duck-mouse universe-set "epic". I had no idea what I was talking about, as many a European reader would've been able to recognize 25+ years ago. To a Topolino reader in 1990, this storyline we might imagine was a novelty: for 12 consecutive issues (exactly three months' worth), one story (out of several) per issue, each roughly 30 pages in length, was presented under the over-arcing "Zodiac Stone" umbrella. What otherwise may have read as the latest Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, or even Huey, Dewey, and Louie adventure had tacked onto it some jive about the immediate proceedings having something to do with the recovery of 1 of 12 "pedants" (as they've been called int he American version).

The loosely serialized nature of the continuity is driven home by its unassuming, casual, not merely self-contained but self-concerned second-to-last and penultimate installments. Chapter 10 is made of the stuff that accounted for a Huey, Dewey and Louie Back to School or Donald Duck Family edition of Dell Giant: the nephews, staying on Grandma Duck's farm, are bored, so Grandma decides to liven things up for them by faking a pirate's treasure map set right on her farm. On the other hand, even given her temporarily getting the upper hand on Scrooge, Chapter 11 may be Magica's most undignified, humiliating effort to acquire Scrooge's first dime: despite the basis of the magic she uses here in Greek mythology, in effect, it comes off as little more than her commandeering a coin-operated grocery store kiddie ride rocking horse.

Make no mistake, I enjoyed the comedic  seasoned adventurer nephews' expressions of boredom with the plain doldrums of a "hayseed's" existence; Grandma's stick-to-it-iv-ness in not just verbally defending her way of life but going out of her way to orchestrate an elaborate ruse to prove her point; the comic relief found in Gus reluctantly aiding Grandma in aid efforts and in their course becoming far more easily tired than she is; Scrooge's faulty memory ("Back to the Klondike", anyone?) leading both Donald and Mickey around the globe on several false trails; and a despondent Scrooge supplicating a gloating Magica, who is quick to find herself fouled up by the surprise arrival of the Donald-Mickey team. And make no mistake, each and all of these characterizations and interactions were as richly rewarding as they are in the IDW due to Jonathan Gray's exacting scribesmanship.

Whereas in Chapter 10, the "Taurus" theme is incorporated only in passing as part of the opening scene, and later revisited, sort of "tying everything together" at the Whitman-level "dramatic" climax, and has absolutely nothing to do with the respective pendant's backstory, Chapter 11's " " is jutting right into our face, in a glaring, big, honkin' way... yet the ultimate locating of the  pendant turns out to have NOTHING to do with the preceding search for it, in an way that's almost clever for being anti-clever.

So, in all, yes, "The Search for the Zodiac Stone" has ended up being sillier an outing than I'd originally hoped it might be. But it HAS -- thanks to the lively, charming art, dialogue, and characterizations -- been a hell of a lot of fun, delightfully both silly and satirical.

And the final panel of Chapter 11 teases and promises that the next and final installment will see the Phantom Blot teamed with Peg Leg Pete. Let it not be said that "they", in their various permutations over the decades and across the continents, don't know what we want!

"Music for Melons" (#730)
written and drawn by Ben Verhagen
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seiter
U.S. dialogue by David Gerstein
(Netherlands. Donald Duck #9-1987, February 27th, 1987)

Perhaps it's because of "Blondbeard"'s low-key nature that "Petrified Perfection" was given  the cover and lead spot over "Zodiac"'s tenth chapter. Whatever the reason, the rare appearance of Ben Verhagen story is a special event in its own right, and being a 10-pager, it being a WDC&S headliner is both appropriate and deserved. Donald pressured to succeed in a new, key position delegated to him by the ruthlessly judgmental Scrooge is a time-tested formula. I wouldn't as Donald only succeeds at the last minute, after a string of desperate, failed attempts. If the intended-to-be-silly efforts to accelerate and compound the growth of a single melon are visually not as silly as they could be, Gerstein's dialogue makes up for it, with numerous pun and turns-of-phrase ingenious in their direct contextual relevance, as well as several very eccentric references (a couple of which I couldn't even figure out). 

Something about the narrative execution felt off to me -- I've pinned it to the fact that Scrooge charges Donald with the entire crop, yet the ensuing efforts are centered on the one melon. Though we're shown what inspired this obsession, it was hard to escape the feeling of established but immediately neglected expectations. Living (and measuring) up to the legend is a still hard sell, as it's not made explicit that the melon icon painted on the fence is supposed to represent the actual size of the historic precedent Don's striving to emulate. 

Ultimately, though, the [series of comedic failed attempts --> fleeting moment of triumph undone by over-the-top disaster --> things turn out okay with a "twist" solution] structure holds things together perfectly fine. The wide-angle, grand, stately depiction of Scrooge's newly-opened giant-melon-refurbished-as-hotel in the closing half-page splash evokes the fantastical whimsy of Verhagen's adventure stories. I don't know if Scrooge in the introductory scene citing the zoning restrictions subjected upon him or the cryptic hint in the legend about "the secret being found in song" were originally part of the story or were worked in by Gerstein, but either way, both lay the ground for a setup-payoff sub-thread -- two integral layers built into the story, giving it more complexity.

"Petrified Perfection" (#731)
written by George Stallings
drawn by Riley Thomson
(U.S. Br'er Rabbit weekly Sunday newspaper comic strip, May 17th, 1953) [newly titled]

Vintage Disney's Br'er Rabbit, a vintage Sunday newspaper comic strip -- how can one go wrong?!

"Why Robot" (#731)
written by Stefan Petrucha
drawn by Fabrizio Petrossi
lettered by Nicole and Travis Seitler
(France. Le Journal de Mickey #2999, December 9th, 2009)

This story's appearance in the U.S. marks a throwback to the Gemstone days, which was heavy with 4-tiers-per-page modern Danish Mickey (and friends/family) stories. Petrucha was one of the writers whose stories were regularly used, and though Petrossi wasn't seen as frequently as Ferioli, he did make a showing, and I would say aesthetically was of that same school -- slick, smooth, and more (pupil-eyed) "Disney traditional" than their stylized Italian counterparts.

Not only is "buddy film"-esque scenario spotlighting Goofy and Horace as a comedic duo sans Mickey or any other regulars a novelty, but so is Horace receiving top billing, shared not. It's practically screamed in the reader's face that if their hosts aren't robots or haven't been body-snatched by aliens, then it's got to be some other equally familiar trope.  But it's not supposed to be an impenetrable mystery for the reader -- it's a farce, the crux of this outing being how, each for his own reasons that are innate but completely different from the others, this pair of sidekicks astray from their "alpha" are both oblivious to and hyper-suspicious of (in a justified but completely misguided way)  of their surroundings.

Because they're both played as fools, we expect all along that whatever accounts for their mysterious glimpses, fleeting window-facilitated of what they take as a "robot's shadow" is most likely innocuous. It shouldn't be a letdown when we're proven right, for all of the dark-and-stormy-night theatrics are meant as a joke -- a spoof -- reflecting each protagonist's childlike, misread perception of the situation and their wild, unfounded hypotheses.

The quintessential moment of this exercises in contrast is the simple-minded though humble nature expressed in Goofy's thought balloon and the overblown ego and self-deluded vanity rampant in Horace's.

-- Ryan

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