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Book and Comic Reviews

(2/18/07)

Sorry for the lack of activity hereabouts over the past several weeks.  Blame a recalcitrant Comcast server on the one hand and a bad cold on the other.

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #677 (February 2007).  Bucky Bug, celebrating 75 years in the comics, is the "life" of this latest issue, rating not one but two stories in addition to a prose salute by David Gerstein.  The star of one Disney short cartoon (1932's Bugs in Love) and several continuities in the Silly Symphonies newspaper strip, Bucky also enjoyed a nice run in a solid "tweener feature" (as in: the stuff "tween" the Carl Barks lead story and the Mickey Mouse material in the back) in the WDC&S of the mid-to-late 1940s.  He faded from the American scene after that but continues to be popular in European Disney comics.  Writer Don Markstein and artist Noel Van Horn fete the Buckster's diamond anniversary with a brand-new story, "Bucky's Birthday Party," that manages to pay homage to the classic WDC&S material while introducing some new wrinkles -- or, perhaps I should say "a new rhythm," in that the predictable singsong cadence of the Bucky stories' trademark rhyming dialogue has been spiced up by Markstein's effort to avoid the trap of always locating rhyming words at the ends of lines.  NVH's art is a mixture of the "classic" Bucky comic-book look (as originally perfected by the likes of Carl Buettner and Vivie Risto) and a distinctly 1930s twist in the portrayal of antagonist Fly King, who's "tired" of peace with Junkville and unsuccessfully attempts to kidnap Bucky's wife June during Bucky's birthday party.  Bucky doesn't really do anything to stop the outrage (at least he's still in character... so to speak), but that's only a minor irritant here. 

The 1930s Bucky also gets his "props" with a reprint of Ted Osborne and Al Taliaferro's 1933 Silly Symphonies continuity "The Old Folks' New Home," in which a preternaturally chipper Bug rehouses his parents after the latter have been evicted from their home.  Disney's then-contemporary The Three Little Pigs gave America a wildly popular anti-Depression anthem with "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?", and Bucky's almost defiant cheerfulness ("We're broke as can be, we haven't a dime, and yet we are having a wonderful time!") is most definitely in the same spirit – more so, in fact, since it presents the reader with an instantly recognizable Depression-era situation, as opposed to couching the message in euphemism.

In matters Mouse-ical, the ish wraps up one Mickey continuity (perhaps for good?) and swings another into its penultimate phase.  "The Protector of Shambor, Part 3" finds Mickey's allies from Shambor hitting the "astral trail" to Mouseton to help prevent the wicked Grand Vizier and sorcerer Thornenclaw from offing Mickey in his helpless, "astral-self"-free form.  I must admit to a small feeling of pride in the accuracy of my prediction that the bad guys would find themselves imperiled by "everyday life in Mouseton" at some point.  To be sure, they were already on the run, thanks to Mickey's formal ceding of control over the Sword of Shambor to "The Protector" (a.k.a. Yeckim), but their unamusing encounter with a seaside amusement park's roller coaster does definitely soften them up for the final takedown.  The ending, knotting together as it does all reasonably significant loose ends, doesn't seem to leave open a reasonable possibility for future Shambor adventures (even the potential for comedic romantic conflict between Mickey and Yeckim over Lorac is brushed aside, this after Lorac's hysterical clinginess with Mickey in Part 2!).  No matter, I suppose; the entire Shambor saga, from start to finish, certainly stands on its own "as is" and richly deserves reprinting in a special trade paperback volume.

Part three of "Mickey Mouse Joins the Foreign Legion" features the single most memorable sequence in the entire continuity – and this well in advance of the concluding skullduggery involving Sheik Yussuf Aiper (and who, aside from serious comics scholars, will get that reference today?).  Sergeant "Beau Chest" Pete, having sent put-upon Mickey on what he expects will be a one-way "scouting trip" into the desert, is upbraided by his colonel and told to bring the Mouse back or face murder charges.  The ensuing dialogue between Pete and Mickey as they return to the fort is half-surreal, half-hysterical.  A sample: After Mickey repents of his own plan to give Pete a taste of his own medicine and goes back to save the big lug, Pete grumbles: "I'm sure glad I hate yuh!  Cause if I didn't hate yuh, I'd like yuh!  An' I don't wanna like yuh – I hate yuh too much!"  (I didn't know Yogi Berra had ever dialogued Gottfredson's stories.)  The chapter closes on a sinister note, with Pete and Trigger Hawkes planning to make their getaway with the "new-type gun" plans under cover of a wholesale massacre of Legionnaires – including Mickey.  I wonder why Gottfredson depicted Yussuf Aiper and his men as humans.  To make them appear more "menacing," perhaps?  How much more menacing can they possibly seem than Pete and Hawkes, with their cold-blooded scheme to have Legionnaires slaughtered for the sake of a convenient alibi?

Two Donald stories bookends the book, but neither shows its primary creator in top form, or anything within hailing distance of it.  In William Van Horn's "A Louse in the House," a frantic Donald rips apart walls, floorboards, and everything else in sight in an increasingly desperate quest to discover what manner of vermin have been leaving him covered with itchy "bites" overnight.  Fulfilling a prediction by HD&L – who hardly act like concerned relatives here, preferring instead to make sardonic comments and roll their eyes – Donald turns out to be suffering from an allergy.  Trouble is, if Don really were suffering from the malady he's purportedly facing here, he'd probably be a whole lot worse off than it appears he is.  That make sense?  (I don't want to give the ending away, but it caused me to groan.)  John Lustig and Vicar's "Snow Smitten" is even less bearable, coming off like one of John's Last Kiss features gone astray.  Donald has become obsessed with writing mushy love poetry to Daisy (Valentine's Day connection, get it?), neglecting grocery shopping, bill payments, and elementary personal hygiene in the process.  When a monster snowstorm traps Donald, Daisy, and HD&L in the house, they're left with only turnips to eat.  And there it ends, with a resigned HD&L planning to burn Donald's poems for warmth and a furious Daisy chasing Donald about the place with intent to maim – or worse.  Rarely has the ever-reliable Lustig so badly missed the mark.          

I shouldn't neglect to mention the short but sweet Big Bad Wolf story "Judgment Day," dialogued by David Gerstein and drawn with delightful flair by a pair of Dutch artists with a whole lot of vowels in their names.  Threatened with mayhem by Brer Fox for a frame-up job, Zeke Wolf agrees to help the former capture Brer Rabbit with a phony "deathbed" scam.  Under the illusion that Brer Fox really is dying, Li'l Bad Wolf does such a good job of convincing others of the impending tragedy that the "deathbed scene" is attended by a cast of thousands!  (Well, dozens, anyway.)  David typically does a good job of giving these "Swamp Folk" tales a witty, Pogo-like spin, and he's in particularly good form this time around.

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(2/4/07)

Uncle $crooge #362 (February 2007).  Hooray and huzzah – after a stretch that seemed as barren and lifeless as the desert that "Foreign Legionnaire" Mickey is currently treading over in WDC&S (which I'll take up next week), some new Gemstones are finally here!  And quite a "love"-ly Valentine's Day ish this new offering is, too. 

Though it's only a minor filler story, I can't help but start with the Gyro Gearloose tale "When Posty Met Patty," which might qualify as the ultimate "Valentine" to fabled Western Publishing script-scrivener Vic Lockman.  Co-writer Lars Jensen is known to have a soft spot in his heart for Lockman's work, while dialogue-ist Joe Torcivia's appreciation of -- and matchless "feel" for -- the style of that tireless tale-teller was most recently manifested in his superb script for the Super Goof backup story in Mickey Mouse and Blotman: Blotman Returns. Here, Jensen revives a regular visiting, er, "character" from Lockman's Gyro stories -- Posty, the inventor's ambulatory letterbox – and gives him (it?) a "fe-mail" object of affection, a pink-high-heeled postbox built by Gyro for Daisy.  In Posty's zeal to present "Patricia Post-Ette 2007" with all manner of letterbox lagniappe, the "appointed rounds" of the local postal service suddenly become that much harder to circumnambulate.  Anyone even remotely familiar with Lockman's working methods will appreciate how accurately Joe hits the bullseye in his use of themed alliteration, trademark exclamations, and the like.      

"Red Roses and Blueberry Pie," by Pat and Carol McGreal and an exceptionally inspired Rodriquez, likewise puts an unusual – and quite funny -- spin on the Valentine's Day motif.  We learn that local Duckburgian pie-maker – and confirmed spinster -- Bessie Budgee has been bringing pies to Scrooge every day in exchange for the old miser's keeping her rent low.  (How's Scrooge managed to maintain that trim figure all this time, I wonder?  Perhaps it's all that money-related exercise he does.)  Daisy, overcome with the spirit of the holiday thanks to Donald's unprompted (and therefore completely unexpected) on-time delivery of V-Day gifts, signs Scrooge's name to a gift of red roses for Bessie.  Afraid that Scrooge is declaring "life-long love" for her, Bessie refrains from the next pie delivery, sending Scrooge into an orgy of unrequited pastry-centered love.  At the same time, while arguing over Daisy's well-meaning but naοve act, Donald and Daisy break up.  All misunderstandings are cleared up by the end, of course.  Rodriquez's exquisite artwork, especially his rendition of Daisy, is a big reason why what could have come off as a stickily sentimental comedy of errors goes down smoothly.  Daisy is simply gorgeous here, especially when she dons a strapless, backless gown.  The effect is somewhat Branca-like, only with a little less "rubberiness" and a bit more finesse.  It's easily the best Donald's "doll" has looked since the days of the TV series Quack Pack, and Daisy had the advantage of a restyled hairdo and wardrobe in that case.

Hard to believe that a reprint of a Don Rosa classic rates third position in this entry, but such is the case with "Return to Plain Awful," Rosa's 1988 sequel to Carl Barks' "Lost in the Andes."  This was Rosa's first attempt to do a formal sequel to a Barks tale, and one finds oneself wistfully comparing the freer, more straightforward approach he used here to the immense pyramid of cross-referenced minutiae that he erected (to his ultimate regret, I'm almost inclined to say at this point) during the course of "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck."  As in "Son of the Sun," Rosa's legendary first story, Scrooge and Flintheart Glomgold figure prominently as rivals in this tale, which details the Ducks' return to – well, you know – to save the ailing "cubic cocks" that Donald and the boys had trucked back to Duckburg at the end of "Lost in the Andes."  While Scrooge hopes to corner some of the square-egg action, Glomgold plans to box it in entirely (notice how I'm making with the "square" metaphors here?).  Rosa's main insight here is simple but profound: since the Plain Awfultonians had mimicked the civilization and speech patterns of the Old South thanks to the 19th-century visit of the "Professor from Bummin'ham," why wouldn't they have drawn similar "inspiration" from the coming of Donald and HD&L?  Before all is said and done here, the PA's have slavishly changed the entire focus of their culture not once but twice ("They are just like Americans!" Scrooge sourly snaps), and there's a hint at the end that it may be about to happen again.  Luckily, the PA's maintain their "richness of spirit and good cheer" throughout and end up getting the best of Scrooge and Flinty anyway.  I can't honestly recall my specific initial reaction to this -- *gasp!* -- attempt at sequelization, but I can say that the story has aged quite well, indeed.

"The Dollar Stalactite," a Romano Scarpa Disney Studios production here dialogued by Don Markstein, rests upon the highly dubious notion that Scrooge has become a Junior Woodchuck volunteer leader (supposedly to get "occasional glimpses" inside the Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook – as if he hasn't had more than enough of those during his many adventures with the Nephews?) and a few other more-or-less knuckleheaded ideas, but it's a good read for all that.  HD&L snooker Scrooge and fellow volunteer leader Brigitta MacBridge (who's officially a "Woodchuck auxiliary," in case you're wondering how she managed to get into the all-male bastion of the comic-book 'Chucks) into searching for a phony treasure in "Carlsbark Caverns."  Their goal?  To allow Scrooge and Brigitta to "have fun together for once."  In the course of their spelunking, the gang find the titular formation, which (1) isn't actually a stalactite, since it extends entirely from floor to ceiling rather than being a hanging rock formation, and (2) has nothing to do with the story, apart from snapping the rope that the Ducks intend to use as a trail back to the outside world.  To find out how these deep-down doings tie in with the capture of a rare-perfume thief (would I make that up?), you'll have to read the story, but I will divulge that the tale ends with the rarest of rare sights – a scene of a grateful Scrooge kissing an ecstatic Brigitta.  Given some unpromising raw materials to work with, Markstein delivers the goods with some inspired dialogue.  I especially like Scrooge's dismissal of Brigitta's "Woodchuck auxiliary uniform" with a disgusted, "It makes you look just like… you!"

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