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Book and Comic Reviews

(1/29/06)

FWIW, my Super Bowl XL prediction is Seattle 20, Pittsburgh 17.  Truth be told, this matchup has the look of a complete and utter tossup, but I think that the Seahawks have been slightly underrated. 

Comics Reviews 

Donald Duck and Friends #336 (Gemstone).  Sometimes it's a good idea for editors writing editorial columns not to editorialize.  John Clark puts forth a ponderous argument that the first two stories in this issue – Carl Barks' Donald story "Biceps Blues" (1946) and Susan Marenco and Noel Van Horn's Mickey story "Plain Brown Wrapper" – reflect changing views about gender relationships.  Let's see.  In "Blues," Donald strives mightily to impress Daisy by building up his muscles.  In "Wrapper," Mickey is determined not to stand up Minnie for a fourth time in a month (!) but gets distracted by a mysterious package that leads to him uncovering a whole series of clues.  Squawk if you must about Donald's self-interested motive – in this case, a desire to tear Daisy's gaze away from the hulking boyfriend of an old school pal – but once he makes a decision to get in shape, he goes at it with gusto, and it's the Nephews' well-meaning attempts to help him out, rather than any particular sin on Donald's part, that ultimately frustrate him.  Mickey, by contrast, continues doggedly pursuing clues even though he's well aware that time's a-wasting to meet Minnie.  Who is making the real effort to "understand" the needs and feeling of his sweetheart here?  Ease up on the "Mars & Venus" philosophizing a bit, there, John.

Kari Korhonen, David Gerstein (on dialogue), and Daniel Branca team up for the ish's featured item, "Again and Again," which is essentially a Duck-riff on the movie Groundhog Day.  Donald, trapped in a cycle of repeating the same disastrous day over and over, squabbles with cigar-chewing "Big Daddy Time" in several scenes that evoke the "Pops Klock" episode of Bonkers.  The ending twist is telegraphed somewhat, but you do have to be paying careful attention.  Branca's art got a little too zany for some of his fans near the end of his career, but here, it fits the overall sense of silliness. 

Mickey Mouse and Friends #285 (Gemstone).  "The Return of the Phantom Blot," originally serialized in four parts in WDC&S in 1964 but reprinted in full in this issue, has fair claim to be one of the most important Mickey tales ever produced specifically for comic books.  It revived the most famous of all Floyd Gottfredson villains, unseen since that memorable 1939 comic-strip appearance -- a decision which led to a short-lived Phantom Blot title and, more significant in the long run, to the reestablishment of The Blot as a regular foe for The Mouse.  For sure, it's the most successful of the Paul Murry-drawn Mickey serials in terms of establishing a true sense of mystery; I failed to guess the ultimate solution, and it's likely that many first-time readers will be surprised as well.  Presented as a complete entity for the first time, the tale does show a number of seams, in particular the role of an abandoned boarding house that just happens to be the place where The Blot stashes a kidnapped Chief O'Hara and where Black Pete and his partner in crime Frenchy (who're trying to exploit the police's attention being drawn to The Blot's "return" by pulling crimes of their own) decide to hide out as their loot piles up.  On a more philosophical level, one can also question the uncredited writer's decision to make The Blot's "return" a long string of jewel robberies and bank heists.  In the original 1939 story, The Blot was an international crook playing for high stakes (why else would he have set all those death traps for Mickey?).  Having him pull mundane crimes took some of the seriousness away from the character.  Thankfully, most modern writers who have used The Blot have avoided making the same mistake and have placed the character's schemes on a somewhat more ambitious plane.  But had this story not seen print, would they ever have been inspired to do so?    

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Book Review 

After the Victorians by A.N. Wilson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).  Wilson, author of The Victorians, follows up his earlier work with a narrative that traces the political, military, and cultural history of Britain from 1901 to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.  I love sweeping, multifaceted histories like this, though I don't always agree with Wilson's arguments (and the same holds true this time around).  The history ends on a sad note, as Britain survived World War II only to lose its Empire.  There are a number of errors of fact (some of which relate to American rather than British history), so read with some degree of caution.  Anyone who enjoys broad historical narratives will learn something from this offering.

(1/22/06)

Mickey Mouse Adventures #7 (Gemstone).  Plenty of intriguing ideas on display here, but the execution in all three stories leaves something to be desired.  In "All About Mickey," Stefan Petrucha posits the unsettling notion of Marty, a Mickey "groupie" who won't leave his "hero" alone – and then things really get weird, as Marty begins to take over, not only Mickey's daily life, but the Mouse's very existence.  Petrucha manages to sustain his premise most of the way, but it breaks down when Marty gives the reason why he and his "Mouseton doppelganger" cohorts, who originally inhabited a distorted world on the other side of a magic mirror, want to invade Mickey's Mouseton in the first place.  Marty claims to be frustrated by life in a world "where everything is bent out of shape!".  Uh, and his frame of reference for making such a comparison would be what, exactly?  If Marty really had been trapped in the mirror-world for his entire life, only to be released when Mickey looked into the mirror, then wouldn't he regard the "real" Mouseton as the hideous distortion?  Questionable as this twist is to me, it still trumps the goings-on in Mark Shaw and Bancells' Donald Duck story "Ring Thrice and I'll Clobber You, My Lad", wherein Donald and Daisy, to put it bluntly, spend a good deal of the time beating the crap out of each other.  It's partially explained away as the result of Daisy being possessed by the spirit of the ancient sorceress Morgan le Fay and Donald being gripped by a magical urge to seek out Merlin's Tomb, but the distasteful doings between the canard couple even predate the exact "times of possession."  Donald swinging Daisy by the heels and bludgeoning her head against a rock in order to force Morgan's spirit out of Daisy's body is one of the more distasteful images I've ever encountered in a Duck story.  Happily, the issue ends on an up note with Rudy Salvagnini and Graziano Barbaro's Mickey tale "The Imperial Vortex," based on a premise so compelling that I found myself wishing that the story had been twice as long.  On an expedition to Antarctica to investigate mysterious phenomena, Mickey is sucked into the title twister and transported to a parallel world in which the Roman Empire never fell.  The "semi-modernized" Empire reminded me of the setting of the old Hanna-Barbera TV series The Roman Holidays.  Mickey gets mixed up in a convoluted plot involving a visiting Native American dignitary from an America that Columbus never discovered (it was actually the "Buffalonians" who sought out Rome!) and a comic-book writer who has a claim on the imperial throne.  These intrigues may justify a story of this length, but, in my opinion, they do not take full advantage of the possibilities inherent in such a setting.  Perhaps Topolino (where this story originated) should consider a sequel, however contrived it might seem.

Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity by Dave Shiflett (Penguin/Sentinel).  In a culture that seems to be getting more secularized by the day, why are so many Americans quitting "Churches of What's Happening Now" in favor of a more daunting path?  Shiflett's book discusses the decline in church attendance in mainline Protestant denominations, the beliefs of breakaway groups within these denominations who disagree with changes in traditional beliefs, and some of the burgeoning alternatives, including Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and evangelical Christianity.  The point is made – repeatedly, since Shiflett has an annoying habit of repeating just about everything he writes at least three or four times – that the conservative counterrevolution is not a flight into a "comfort zone," as some might describe it, but a movement full of potential risks, whether they be a general alienation from pop culture or (as one Catholic priest interviewed herein firmly believes) the potential for future outright persecution of religious believers.  Anyone who believes that Catholics and evangelicals are "poorly educated and easily led," as a leading newspaper notoriously opined some time ago, will be quickly set straight after reading the diverse and well-thought-out opinions expressed by the individuals interviewed by Shiflett.  One major trend in the growth of orthodoxy – the Orthodox Jewish movement, exemplified in pop culture by Michael Medved (no, I don't include Madonna in that mix) – is not touched upon.  Since the focus of the book is on Christianity, this was not entirely surprising, but it still seems odd, since Orthodox Jewry definitely ties into Shiflett's theme that seeking out a more rigorous faith has become a profoundly anti-establishmentarian act.  Mormonism is briefly mentioned, but it, too, is passed over.  Despite these omissions, the book is well worth reading by anyone who wants to understand why "Christianity Lite" has proven to be far less palatable and satisfying to millions of people around the world than its practitioners and proselytizers could have imagined when they set out to recreate a church more "in tune" with the modern world.

(1/9/2006) 

It's been a while since I posted, so I have some SERIOUS up-catching (is that a word?) to do… A belated Happy New Year to my regular readers!

Donald Duck and Friends #335 (January 2006).  It's rare that a Duck story attempts to do a full-bore parody/spoof of another modern media entity – much less one that is 30-odd years old by this time, even older than such standard send-up fodder as Star Wars and Ghostbusters – so "The Quacking," this issue's featured story, comes as a real surprise.  Writers Pat and Carol McGreal play with certain names and concepts (e.g., "Undercook Hotel" replaces "Overlook Hotel", and the juvenile gift of "The Shining" is replaced by the Nephews – and Donald's – being endowed with "The Quacking", an ability to, well, quack loudly and thereby cause havoc), but Stephen King's basic story of a remote hotel being "possessed" by animate objects and other strange phenomena is transcribed into a "Duck setting" with remarkable fidelity.  A topiary garden and hotel furnishings come to life, a rough-hewn but wise adult confidant advises the youngsters, and there's even an "explosive" ending.  Caretaker Donald's hysterical reactions to the weird doings are much more in the spirit of the King novel than the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation, in that he really isn't primed to go nuts from the start, as Jack Nicholson's character seemed to be on screen.  The McGreals could have stuck with an entirely supernatural approach – the Ducks have encountered sorcerers and such in their adventures, after all – but they opt for a more prosaic, though scientifically dubious, explanation for the mysterious happenings.  Vicar's art is suitably lively, though Daniel Branca, with his looser approach, might have been a better choice.  I wonder whether the Ducks will now use the power of "The Quacking" to fight crime and injustice?  No, I reckon that this is one of those situations where a one-off power or ability will be conveniently forgotten by the time the next story begins…  The rest of the ish is taken up by a Barks WDC&S reprint from 1946 (which, oddly, gets considerably more attention in John Clark's editorial column than "The Quacking"), and a short tale in which Goofy messes up a limo-driving assignment but (of course) comes out looking good in the end. 

Mickey Mouse and Friends #284 (January 2006).  One short, fairly lame Donald and Goofy story is thrown in to help the issue make weight and justify the "…and Friends" tag, but "Snow Use" by Stefan Petrucha and Cesar Ferioli essentially stands on its own two (frostbitten) feet here.  Judging by the date code, this was one of Petrucha's earlier efforts for Egmont.  I generally haven't liked his earlier stories as much as I have the later ones, in which he seems far more comfortable working with the Mickey "universe"'s extended cast (not to mention expanding it himself) and doesn't rely quite so much on an occasionally heavy-handed science fiction approach.  This story, however, is an exception.  Doc Static's new inter-dimensional snow remover appears to be just the thing for getting that pesky white stuff out of the way and relieving folks of the chore of shoveling their driveways, but when Mickey plunges into the gadget to rescue Goofy after the latter is accidentally sucked in, he discovers that the transported snow has literally become a lifesaver for fishlike creatures in a decidedly peculiar alternate reality… a reality that in, uh, reality, that turns out to be something wholly unexpected.  Petrucha uses a couple of convenient "local laws" to gimmick up the plot a bit, but his plot twist in Part 3 legitimately surprised me.  (In the tradition of such things, once I looked back at the story after I finished the first reading, he did provide some hints that it was coming.)   

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Uncle $crooge #349 (January 2006).  During the salad days of DuckTales, many fans (myself among them) eagerly speculated as to how the series' made-for-TV characters, especially Launchpad McQuack, might fare as "regular" cast members in the Duck "universe."  "New Year's Daze," a well-aged Egmont tale reprinted in this issue with new dialogue by David Gerstein, provides an answer… if not an especially inspired one.  Oh, artist Vicar's rendition of Launchpad is just fine, and Gerstein throws in references to DuckTales and even Darkwing Duck to bring a smile to the lips of "Golden Age" Disney TV fans, but even David can't do much with the original plot's rather predictable notion that, when Donald and Launchpad get together, LP is sure to make Don's blood boil, even when the latter has made (yet again) a New Year's resolution to control his temper.  At Scrooge's Bear Mountain cabin with the rest of the Duck clan for a New Year's party, Launchpad drives poor Donald over the edge with a cascade of oblivious nincompoopery that even Bubba Duck would've been ashamed to own up to.  There's no subtlety involved at all, no indication that LP is anything but a one-dimensional buffoon designed to irritate others and cause chaos (as opposed to a character like Fethry Duck, who's powered by a more complex array of forces and irritates Don on several different levels). Limited competence, to be sure, but let's not forget LP's undoubted bravery and willingness to attempt the impossible.  If this tale is emblematic of other Egmont stories that featured Launchpad as a "regular" character, then it's just as well the company stopped producing them after a while.

In an atypical situation for this title, the other significant – and the best -- entry in this issue also casts Scrooge in a co-starring role.  Kari Korhonen's "To Supply a Demand" features an elaborate scheme concocted by Scrooge to get Gyro Gearloose to produce inventions based on market research of consumer demand.  "Why do I feel like I've just sold MORE than just a few inventions?" mulls Gyro after agreeing to the pact.  Soon, Gyro has no money worries anymore, but he's become a slave to consumer preferences.  Donald (of all people!) comes up with a way to help Gyro turn the tables and, eventually, forge a more equitable agreement with Scrooge.  Such a sharp critique of capitalist practices and the pitfalls of "R&D" is, strangely enough, somewhat rare for a story involving Scrooge, whose profit-hungry proclivities are more likely to be questioned by means of such sentiments as "The true value of money is…" (cf. Carl Barks' story "The 24-Carat Moon").

The "Scrooge-centered" stories featured herein rate lower than "To Supply a Demand," which isn't to say that they're lousy.  Carl Barks' "The Doom Diamond," the last story that Barks both wrote and drew to appear in the Uncle $crooge title, can be charitably described as one of "The Duck Man"'s lesser efforts, even taking into account the somewhat "campy" storytelling style that Barks used during his late period.  Scrooge and the Beagles' struggles to control (and subsequently to ditch) a "cursed" gem are about as subtle as a punch in the jaw (or a lightning bolt on the rear, one of the many "curses" that Scrooge endures).  The sea battle between the contending parties is a feeble echo of the famed steam-shovel battle between Scrooge and Donald in "Letter to Santa."  Barks was getting tired by this time, and boy, does it show.  "The Missing Money Mystery", a Scrooge/Magica showdown, is an OK, if dull, Dutch offering in which the characters are frequently drawn so small that they appear to be scurrying about the bottom of a shoe-box diorama.  Lars Jensen and Daniel Branca's "Smarter than the Toughies" features the return of Scrooge's Cousin Douglas and Donald's Cousin Whitewater (the latter a Barks creation), but the plot of Scrooge trying to prove that he still has what it takes to be a sourdough by competing (with Donald) against Douglas and Whitewater in a sourdough contest is rather familiar (cf. Barks' "The Golden Nugget Boat").  It is nice to see an example of Branca's later, somewhat looser and wilder art style, which lends a bit to the slapstick-filled frontier doings.  Jensen, too, wins some points from me by allowing Donald to improve his skills as the contest progresses, rather than mucking things up from start to finish.     

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Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #664 (January 2006).  In his editorial column, John Clark points out that this issue's first two stories, "Chimera" by William Van Horn and "Snow Beast" by Stefan Petrucha and Rodriques, present two different approaches to telling a story of suspense.  What he neglected to mention is the similarity between these stories -- namely, that they're both below average.  "Chimera" displays an overall weariness and lack of direction that I've very rarely seen in one of Van Horn's stories.  Donald and the boys chase what appears to be a mysterious Sasquatch-like creature all over the woods, are just as mysteriously led back to their car, and decide that it's better that the creature remain a legend.  A more enthusiastic – to wit, zanier-minded -- Van Horn would probably have led the Ducks to some sort of crazy hermit or inventor who had an equally crazy way of leaving all those different sorts of tracks (cf. the recently reprinted early-90s story "The Ghost of Kamikaze Ridge") and a ditto-ditto reason for all the subterfuge.  The story is well drawn and dialogued, but I just can't see what Bill was trying to accomplish here.  "Snow Beast," by contrast, isn't aimless; it's simply a bad idea.  After wishing that "it would snow ALL the time," Mickey accidentally releases a magical monster that, you guessed it, causes it to "snow FOREVER" wherever it appears.  I can just hear the Church Mouse, er, Lady now: "How conVEEEEE-nient!".  If that's not enough, consider that Mickey and Minnie must then save Mouseton from eternal snowfall by relying on Clarabelle Cow's knowledge of Latin.  Yes, really.

Luckily, things pick up after these two clunkers.  "All Creatures Great and Small" is writer David Gerstein's take on the notion, seen in a couple of Barks stories, that Donald is driven crazy by the Nephews' accumulation of too many pets – not to mention the idea that Donald and HD&L have unwittingly made conflicting New Year's resolutions.  The resulting conflicts are funny, though Donald probably should have had an "ulterior motive" beyond simply humiliating the boys and reveling in their discomfiture (even the usual "washing-the-dishes penalty" would have been acceptable).  After a good Li'l Bad Wolf reprint with a New Year's theme, we get a couple of decent gag-story quickies, including a rare starring appearance by Gladstone Gander and an equally unusual teamup of Fethry Duck and Daisy (the latter scripted by Petrucha, who may have spun the entire story off its title, "Rhino Plastered").  Then comes part two of Don Rosa's "The Magnificent Seven (minus four) Caballeros," wherein the tale begins to kick into the familiar Rosa "high adventure" mode.  In the Brazilian outback (or whatever the appropriate Portuguese phrase is), Donald, Jose Carioca, and Panchito break up an animal-trapping enterprise and subsequently get on the trail of the long-lost "Mines of Fear," pursued by a Western-educated creep of an Indian "chief" and his band of exploited, "ignorant" savages.  Rosa displays his usual research-fueled touches, but he may have had another inspiration on his mind, as well -- and I'm not just talking about a Yul Brynner movie.  Consider: The trio of caballeros locate the long-hidden entrance to the Mines behind a high rock cliff, the adventurers have to follow a long-hidden, jungle-ridden path to their destination, and the boorish chief keeps control over his tribe by means of a "tribal amulet of royalty," which he loses during the course of the story.  DuckTales fans will recognize some of the lineaments of "Treasure of the Golden Suns" in these plot features.  Rosa has arguably pulled some ideas from the TV series before (most notably his notion of a watchlike, time-stopping device in one story), so it's not impossible that some filching (either advertent or in-) may have gone on here. 

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Movie Review 

(1/15/06)

Glory Road (Walt Disney Productions).  "Winning changes everything," according to this movie's tagline.  Better it should have said, "Revisionism changes everything."  For a good long while after an all-black Texas Western team upset an all-white Kentucky squad to win the 1966 national championship, the conventional wisdom about the wider significance of the game mirrored the chapter title of a popular mid-70s history of college basketball: "Team Tokenism Triumphant."  Texas Western's win, which shattered the popular belief that an all-black team couldn't win a national title, was by no means greeted with universal celebration at the time.  Coach Don Haskins received hate mail from white bigots and from blacks accusing him of exploiting his black players for the sake of a few wins.  A Sports Illustrated series on the black athlete, published in 1968, emphasized the negative experiences of the players and their feelings of isolation in El Paso.  Only years after the fact – with the rise of a new generation of sportswriters weaned on the shibboleths of political correctness – did the game come to be revered as a major sociological statement and a harbinger of increased recruitment of black players, particularly in the South.     

Glory Road captures time and place well, but those unfamiliar with the Texas Western story should be warned in advance: the "road" to the TW-UK game had far more twists and turns than the straight-shot, chumps-to-champs "expressway" depicted on screen.  In the movie, Haskins jumps from coaching a girl's high school team to coaching a sad-sack TW program (which is so bad that even the pep band at the team's first game is way out of tune!), scours the country looking for players, bags seven black guys from various inner-city locations, adapts their street-ball approach into his defensive game plan, and – presto – wins a title.  The 1965-66 season was actually Haskins' fifth at the school.  He had had a number of black players on his teams before that season, including future college coach Nolan Richardson, had been ranked in the Top Ten, and had taken his team to several NCAA Tournaments.  Texas Western had even recruited and played some black players in the late 1950s, well before Haskins arrived.  The true controversy about the '65-'66 team was that its best seven players were all black and got the vast majority of the playing time.  Not only is the movie version inaccurate, it actually reinforces the old stereotype about the team – that Haskins raided schoolyards and cherry-picked a bunch of athletes who shouldn't have been in college in the first place just so he could win some games. 

Before the championship game against Kentucky, the movie version of Haskins, having taken offense at racial slurs directed at his team, tells his players that he's going to "make a statement" by playing ONLY the black players against the all-white Wildcats of Coach Adolph Rupp, the epitome of the basketball establishment at the time.  This, too, is completely bogus.  Haskins did adjust his lineup for the game to add some speed and counteract Kentucky's quickness, but he had been playing the seven blacks as his top seven players pretty much all season long.  Haskins admitted after the fact that had he bowed to the wishes of some of his school's administrators and played an integrated lineup just for the sake of having a token white or two, the players would have seen through the ruse right away.  (In the movie, the attitudes of these higher-ups are compressed into the figures of a single booster and a "good ole boy" trainer, both of whom experience a change of heart about the black players before the end.)  As for racial incidents, there were several, but since the team played most of its away games in the Southwest, the incidents were not as bad as they would have been had the team played games in the Deep South.  (If the team really did experience an assault in a men's room and a trashed hotel room, complete with racial epithets written in blood, as the movie suggests, I've not heard of it.)  Contemporary speculation before the championship game did include discussions of the racial angle, and no doubt many attending sportswriters and coaches, unfamiliar with Texas Western's style of play in that pre-ESPN age, couldn't bring themselves to believe that a strong all-white team could lose to a "less intelligent and less disciplined" all-black outfit.  Even so, the movie's "let's make a statement" idea, though it makes for good theater, distorts the truth.  The Texas Western players were perfectly aware of the situation and did not need such phony motivation to be ready for the game. 

In the "Official Revised Version" of the Texas Western story, Adolph Rupp plays the heavy, the egotistical, bigoted symbol of an "Old South" that was quickly passing away.  The movie Rupp, depicted by Jon Voight, actually came off a little better than I had anticipated.  Voight definitely has the great coach's attitudes and mannerisms down pat (though he has entirely too much hair) and even does a good job mimicking Rupp's Midwestern accent.  However, the movie Rupp does not come across as a basketball version of Bull Connor (to whom he has been compared by more than a few sportswriters) so much as a proud and self-satisfied old man who can't quite comprehend how quickly the world is changing on him.  Rupp's true attitude towards blacks in general and integration in particular is the subject of continuing hot debate.  I'd refer those interested in the subject to Frank Fitzpatrick's And the Walls Came Tumbing Down, for a standard "anti-Rupp" view, and Jeffrey Scott's Web site, http://www.ukfans.net/jps/uk/rupp.html, for a more nuanced version.  Suffice it to say that Rupp was certainly not a progressive, in the modern sense, when it came to race relations and recruiting black players, but neither did he shy away from playing teams with blacks (as some Deep South teams did) or refuse to recognize their importance.  He recruited several black players before finally signing one the year before he retired and also held coaching clinics at all-black schools.  The movie obviously didn't have time to go into all this background detail, but at least it didn't perform a complete hatchet job on Rupp.

The release of Glory Road on the King Holiday weekend can't have been a coincidence.  Judging by the sneak previews that accompanied it and the simplifications made to the story, the movie is clearly aimed at what demographers delicately call a "contemporary urban" audience.  The audience at the showing I attended erupted with whoops and cheers as Texas Western played freewheeling "showtime" ball, including snazzy dunks and a player flying into Rupp's lap on the sidelines, as it rallied past Kentucky for the win.  (In reality, TW took control of the game in the first half and never surrendered the lead after halftime, locking up the win for the most part from the free-throw line – hardly the stuff of drama.)  This is unfortunate, as the story does indeed transcend simplistic black/white lines.  By proving that an all-black team could play great team basketball and win a title, Texas Western spurred a rapid increase in the pace of integration in basketball.  Still, there are numerous other stories of similar importance from this era that merit cinematic or documentary treatment.  In 1963, for example, an all-white Mississippi State team sneaked out of the state to play an NCAA game against a team with four black starters, defying a state law that prohibited participation in integrated games.  If integration and the breaking down of racial barriers were truly the goals of the modern civil-rights movement, then this event would be far more celebrated than it is.  Things have changed since 1965, and the ascension of the Texas Western victory to its present status is as much a reflection of contemporary liberalism's degeneration into naked identity politics as anything else.  Glory Road is still very much worth seeing, but the viewer should be aware that the true story of Texas Western's win had little in common with the plots of Miracle, Rudy, or Hoosiers, which the movie strains every sinew to emulate.  The true story was more like… well, like real life.

Kimba the White Lion Ultra DVD Boxed Set (The Right Stuf).  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that I've waited a lifetime for this release.  After reigniting my youthful love of Kimba the White Lion through blurry VHS tapes, then getting the "official" VHS releases, and then being mildly disappointed by Rhino Video's DVD set of half of the series' 52 episodes, this 11-disc set presents the full run of the 1966 series in the closest we will ever get to "mint" form.  The picture reproduction is impeccable, and the full color of the original series (the first color cartoon produced in Japan) has been refurbished and restored.  The episodes are presented on 10 discs in their original broadcast order in Japan, which is not precisely the same as the American broadcast sequence.  This is OK in that neither sequence is completely accurate in terms of actual character development and growth (and yes, some Kimba fans have doped out a more "logical" sequence; consult one of the Kimba Web sites for more on this if you're curious).  Episodes synopses are available in an accompanying booklet, which also reprints an existing article on the history of the series, bringing the tale up to the present day.  

The extra disc is much appreciated (especially since I've recently been disappointed by the total lack of extras on the DVD releases of such Disney series as DuckTales and Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers).  The showpiece is the original Japanese version of "Go, White Lion!", the series' first episode, with English subtitles.  Fans can now see how the American dubbing team and producer Fred Ladd "adjusted" the pilot for an American audience.  Deleted scenes from other eps are also included, showing how certain visuals were nixed for their violence and/or scariness.  (The show is famous, or notorious, for the number of obvious death scenes that were finessed and explained away "for the sake of the kiddies".)  Fred Ladd, one of the few series principals who is still alive – in fact, Gilbert Mack, the voice of Pauley Cracker, Mr. Pompus, and many other characters, died just last month – provides an interview in which he discusses the series.  It's unfortunate that The Right Stuf couldn't get Sonia Owens, the voice of Kitty and Leona, to perform the same service.  We also get an image gallery, character profiles, model sheets, and the original English opening and closing credits (wherein the name of creator Osamu Tezuka was misspelled).

Overall, those who enjoy outstanding TV animation with plenty of "Heart" and genuine emotion will love this release.  Kimba plays every bit as well today as it did 40 years ago and features some of the medium's most lovable characters, Kimba above all.  I was fortunate enough to meet and/or contact several of the actors who voiced the series and can attest to the fact that they put all they could give into the production.  I can't recommend the set highly enough – but you'd better hustle to get a copy, because this is advertised as a "limited edition."

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