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Book and Comic Reviews

(8/13/07)

Comics Review

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #683 (August 2007).  A mixture of something old and something new… which left me feeling somewhat blue.  The Daan Jippes story "The Abominator" gets things off to a muddled start, especially when you consider that ambitious Donald's latest invention, a gadget that'll help him save time picking up litter, is actually called an "Abomirazor."  (CONTINUITY!!)  In plunking Donald and the Nephews down into remote Windy Springs, where they aim to squeeze at least one paying customer into a ramshackle "gas 'n go" (and thereby squeeze money out of Scrooge to finance production of Donald's brainstorm), Jippes was obviously drawing inspiration from similar Barks stories, such as the "ten-pager" in which Donald tries to make good while serving as a railroad station manager at the loneliest outpost on Scrooge's line.  Don causes his own downfall here, but in a rather contrived manner that somewhat detracts from the already cluttered narrative.  The story could have benefited from slightly less "busy" art, too.

The cover trumpets a story "by" Floyd Gottfredson within, but Bill Walsh was actually responsible for everything but the artwork in the 1953 Mickey Mouse daily strip continuity "Mickey's Dangerous Double," the first part of which is reproduced here.  In the late 40s and early 50s, Walsh's fanciful narratives gave readers "The World of Tomorrow," Eega Beeva and Pflip, encounters with mad scientists and leprechauns, and the truly mind-boggling notion of Pete as a Communist agent of long standing.  By '53, however, Walsh had started to slip a bit (or at least get a little tired of the daily grind), and the weariness shows here.  Taking advantage of Mickey's absence from Mouseton, an evil double assumes his place and proceeds to besmirch the Mouse's good name – and the level of originality displayed thereby is what, exactly?  It's the sort of story in which you know "Nega-Mickey" is a really bad guy because he pulls chairs out from under people and chortles about it.  (Seriously, N-M does kidnap Pluto in order to prevent Mickey from stopping his ongoing crime spree.  Now, if he ultimately puts Pluto in a death trap, I'll really be impressed.)

Two other vintage stories in the issue date from the 1940s.  Carl Barks' "Eyes in the Dark" is a bit dated in that it centers on Don's use of an early radar-type device to track the Nephews wherever they might wander.  Take away the ancient tech and it's a basic, classic battle of wits between Don and HD&L, full of the ebbs and flows particular to that genre.  The Li'l Bad Wolf story "The Secrut [sic] Hideout" is a very early example of Paul Murry's comic-book art, and, as such, contains a much larger measure of slapstick action than Murry's less inspired, more "cookie-cutter" drawing style of later years.

The other two new stories aren't any great shakes.  In Lars Jensen, Geoff Cowan, and Marcal's "Cock a Doodle Don't," Grandma Duck and Gus must venture into a cavern to extract "blue bunion moss" for a tonic to cure an epidemic of laryngitis that's left Grandma's farm bereft of its usual rooster-powered wake-up call.  Gail Renard, Jack Sutter, and Millet's "Call Waiting" finds Donald desperately awaiting a quiz-show phone call that he "just knows" has to come sooner or later.  Unfortunately, a door-to-door book salesman -- who happens to be carrying the very information that Don will need to answer the quiz show's question -- picks precisely the wrong time at which to make his anachronistic appearance.  Someone really needs to let Renard and Sutter know that the 1950s have been over for some time.  (Come to think of it, Don Rosa might need to be reminded as well.)

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Harvey Comic Classics Volume 1: Casper the Friendly Ghost (Dark Horse).  Having established its credentials as a purveyor of "family friendly" comics with the Little Lulu reprint series (not to mention the peripatetic Groo franchise), Dark Horse does both Harvey Comics fans and Harvey "newbies" a real service with this thick, handsome volume, the first in a projected series of collections of classic Harvey Comics material.  (The second volume, featuring Richie Rich, is scheduled to come out in October.)  The omnibus begins with the (rather lousy) first comic-book story featuring Casper, from the short-lived Casper title produced by St. John's Publishing in the late 40s, and extends to 1966.  Apart from a couple of color sections, the basic chronological order is preserved, so it is easy to follow how Casper's universe changed over the years, from a bizarre "everyday" world populated by a confusing mixture of humans, dog-faced and pig-faced humanoids, and sentient animals to the fantasy-flecked "Enchanted Forest" that originated and flourished under the guidance of editor Sid Jacobson.  Not being a Casper collector (apart from the wonderful Richie Rich and Casper series of the 70s and 80s), this progression was new to me, and I admit to being impressed at how quickly the level of graphic and narrative sophistication rose once Harvey was able to tinker with the property as it saw fit.  In stories from the early 50s, the storytelling is dry, simple, and (unsurprisingly, considering the animated source) predictable.  By the mid-50s, however, such longer tales as "The Witch Widow" and "Wendy's Wish" display ample charm, humor, and genuine "Heart" above and beyond Casper's dogged desire to make friends.  As the "Enchanted Forest" conceit assumes sway, Casper gradually changes from a gimmick character to an adventure hero, a status he would retain for the rest of his four-color life (?).  The inclusion of a number of short, humorous Spooky stories by Howard Post, which were normally used to back up the lead Casper stories during this period, provide ample belly laughs and contrast pleasantly with the "sweeter" and more whimsical goings-on involving Casper, Wendy, The Ghostly Trio, Nightmare, et al.

The nits that I have to pick with this generally fine first offering are relatively small, but distressingly numerous.  Jerry Beck's introductory essay does a good job of detailing Casper's frequently disputed origins and the development of the "Harvey World" version of the character, and Beck does mention the names of the artists responsible for the comic-book work, but why wasn't each story given its own individual art credit?  Longtime Harvey fans will recognize the artwork of Warren Kremer, Ernie Colon, and Post right off the bat, but how about the other, lesser-known contributors?  If that info is no longer available – and it would not surprise me if it were not -- then we should at least have been informed of the fact.  A more serious oversight is the indexing of certain 15-page stories as three separate stories of 5 pages apiece.  In the mid-50s, Harvey's 15-page stories included "The End" at the conclusion of each 5-page "chunk," with the general narrative being continued over to the next part, so it's easy to see how such a goof might have been made.  Once we get into the late 50s, though, the dreaded "continued in this issue…" indicia starts to appear at the ends of parts one and two, so, even though separate "chapter" titles are still used, the narrative is technically 15 pages long.  I had wondered why such 15-page stories as "Real Gone" had been mysteriously listed as 5 pages in length when I saw the index reprinted in the most recent issue of The Harveyville Fun Times!.  The gaffe allows Dark Horse to advertise the inclusion of 100 [sic] stories in the collection.  While I'm sure the oversight was not intentional, it is nonetheless irritating.

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