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Book and Comic Reviews

(1/22/07)   

Book Review

Great British Comics by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury (Aurum Press).  This colorful volume reminds me of nothing so much as an "across the pond" version of Comix, Les Daniels' early-70s survey of the then-virgin territory of American funny books.  As in Daniels' book, Gravett and Stanbury lump together a dizzying variety of different types of British comics, ranging from hoary old classics to the most ephemeral of "countercultural" modern works.  The comics are arranged by subject matter (kids, families, sci-fi, adventure, women, etc.), with each sequence of sample strips presented in more or less chronological order.  The effect of this parallel-track structure (to someone not well versed in the subject matter, that is) is to somewhat muddy the waters on the issue of what, exactly, does constitute a "great" British comic.  I rather suspect that the trendy likes of, for example, S**t the Dog and Johnny Fartpants won't hold up as well in future years as Judge Dredd or Modesty Blaise, but Gravett and Stanbury treat each item in a particular collection of themed strips with more or less equal gravity.  Adding to the neophyte reader's difficulties, many of the strips reproduced herein are reproduced at such a small size that one literally needs an optical aid to dope them out.  This may not be much of an issue to the British reader who knows these characters and creators, but for someone who actually wants to read the doggoned – er -- bloody things, it can be a problem.  The accompanying text carries a whiff of the overwrought in its attempts to plumb social meaning, but it can easily be skimmed over when things get too thick.  The authors maintain a Web site, www.greatbritishcomics.com, which they claim includes "lots more fun and facts" (and, hopefully, larger font sizes).  Overall, this is a pretty worthwhile purchase for someone interested in broadening their panelological horizons.     

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(1/1/07)    A HAPPY AND SAFE NEW YEAR TO ALL MY READERS!

 Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #676 (January 2007).  In the jargon of football -- which comes so easily to mind this time of year -- Pat and Carol McGreal stage yet another "stirring fourth-quarter comeback," piloting the heretofore unwieldy and, quite frankly, unimpressive "Orb Saga" to a satisfactory conclusion.  In real time, it was actually the duo's first such "rally," since Pat McGreal reveals in a brief Afterword that this Duck and Mouse crossover was written and published before "The Mythos Island Saga."  The story was originally meant to herald the coming of the year 2000, hence all the rigmarole about Meringue the Malevolent's attempting to exploit the "elemental forces" present at the start of a new year to create a scepter of unimaginable power out of the two sinister spheres.  Meringue still comes across as an entirely overripe bad guy, but what makes these final two parts work is the simple fact that, after heretofore essaying a disjointed series of sub-adventures, the Duck and Mouse characters finally get to join forces.  In part seven, "New Year's Nightmare, Chapter 1" (got that?), the whole gang (Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie, Daisy, Scrooge, and Gyro) unites to thwart the efforts of Meringue and his hypnotized hirelings Magica De Spell, the Beagle Boys, and the Phantom Blot – well, as it turns out, the Blot has been faking it all along and is just waiting for his chance to let the air out of Meringue, though how he originally managed to thwart the sorcerer's all-powerful boojum is beyond me – to "power up" the orbs at the dawning of Duckburg's New Year.  Undaunted, Meringue steals away to the last place on Earth where the New Year will be rung in – a remote Western Samoan atoll.  (I recall seeing a plot twist similar to this once before, in a Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers story entitled "The New Year's Chase," wherein Richie and Jackie literally pursue the New Year around the globe.)  Mickey and Donald, flying Scrooge's "super-aircraft" The Vertex, follow the villain, and we get the obligatory showdown in part eight, "New Year's Nightmare, Ch. 2".  Through a combination of conch-filtered "sonic vibrations" and a convenient magical backlash, Meringue is foiled – but not before Scrooge's prized airship is wrecked, to poor Donald's dismay… 

Not the least of the virtues of these last two chapters is the return to artistic duty of Cesar Ferioli, who's at his very best.  The opening scene at Daisy's New Year's Eve party, wherein Mickey steals in to give Daisy a whirl on the dance floor, with Minnie and Donald following suit, is simply charming.  Ditto the scene in which Minnie and Daisy convince the love-struck Magica that the latter's "babe" Meringue owes her a gift – namely, the orbs.  (This one scene works better than the entire attempt to turn M&D into detective pals in the earlier chapter "Sister Sleuths.")  At one point, the Blot "tiptoes along" in a wonderful tribute to a famous scene from his original appearance.  The McGreals pitch in with some cleverly sardonic byplay between Donald and Mickey, demonstrating that their particular interpretation of Donald's love-hate feelings towards the Mouse definitely predated "Mythos Island."  Now that we know that "The Orb Saga" came first, it is clear that in this initial crossover effort, the McGreals learned a few valuable lessons in preparation for "Mythos Island" – most notably (1) the more interaction between the Duck and Mouse casts, the better; (2) make sure Ferioli's calendar is clear before submitting the script to Egmont.

The McGreals (and Ferioli) also kick the action up a few notches in part two of the newest Shambor serial, "The Protector of Shambor".  In truth, the title appears to be a little misleading, in that at least some of the action in this story will be taking place at home in Mouseton.  Having tricked Mickey into coming back to Shambor by filling the Mouse's mind with visions of Yeckim Esuom undergoing torture, the wicked ex-vizier and sorcerer entrap the Mickster, then prepare to "follow the astral trail" back to where Mickey began the journey.  Is the stage being set for a scenario wherein the villains find themselves imperiled by the pursuing Mickey and by "everyday life" in humdrum Mouseton?  It would seem a fair turnabout, given the high-adventure antics of the previous Shambor tales.  Adding spice to this particular mix is the intriguing fact that Yeckim's loyal Princess Lorac appears to be entirely too willing to throw herself into liberator Mickey's arms when he arrives on the scene.  Yeckim and Lorac had a brief dispute over the latter's attentions towards Mickey in a previous story; are we headed for more of the same?

Wait, Mickey maniacs, there's more in this issue for you.  You also get to see Mickey undergo the infamous "torture test" at the sadistic hands of "Sergeant Beau Chest" Pete in part two (or, should I say, deux) of Floyd Gottfredson's "Mickey Mouse Joins the Foreign Legion"!  I can't decide whether Gottfredson's labored efforts to craft gags relating to Mickey's painful plight takes the edge off Pete's abuse or makes it seem worse.  Scary enough is the scene in which a menacingly jovial Pete forces a shivering, unwilling Mickey to salute him for the first time.  There are many stories in which Mickey must first go through the wringer before accomplishing a worthwhile goal – in this case, cornering renegade agent Trigger Hawkes – but this one is at or near the top of the list insofar as the physical tightness of said "wringer" goes.   

Topping off a simply superb issue, we get a nice two-page Scamp gag (one of Al Hubbard's later ones) and a Marco Rota Donald story, "Lucky New Year," which goes on rather too long but is nonetheless worth following through to the end.  Donald and Daisy's efforts to reach the "SLUGS" club's New Year's Party (and if you want to know what "SLUGS" stands for, that's the whole point of the story, so I won't ruin it) seesaw between the dogged and the squalid, but I was glad that Rota recognized that the Ducks deserved a happy ending in this case.  The tale definitely benefits from a first-class dialoguing job by Annette Roman.  

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Uncle $crooge #361 (January 2007).  Not quite up to the dizzying standards of this month's WDC&S, but a fine ish nonetheless.  We begin with a 1963 Carl Barks tale, "Oddball Odyssey," which wasn't included in the collection of Carl Barks' Greatest DuckTales Stories but may, nonetheless, have exerted some sort of influence on the scripting of the DT episode "Home Sweet Homer."  The difference is that "Homer" featured more references to elements of The Odyssey (due in part to the fact that a magical cyclone actually transported Scrooge and the Nephews back in time to ancient Greece) than does Barks' relatively straightforward, somewhat more cynical tale, which is set entirely in the present day (well, 1963, anyway) despite its Grecian trappings.  Magica De Spell, disguised as a descendant of the sorceress Circe, first attempts (unsuccessfully) to bamboozle Scrooge into parting with his Old #1 Dime in exchange for a fake "Treasure of Ulysses," then partakes of some of Circe's real powers thanks to an accidental archaeological discovery.  You can see the Magica/Old #1 Dime theme slipping a bit out of Barks' control here – Scrooge "admits" that once he loses Old #1, he'll lose interest in the rest of his fortune!! – but Magica has seldom looked better in any other Barks story, and the action and dialogue are lively enough.  Barks doesn't appear to have been overly hampered by the story's strange formatting, a product of Gold Key's short-lived "New Look," in which the sizes of most panels are reduced and rectangular dialogue balloons replace the usual oval ones.  (The original story had borderless panels and some rather unconventional coloring, as well, but these quirks have been rectified in this reprinting.)  Overall, this ranks as one of Barks' better Magica stories.

Following a decent Gyro Gearloose tale, the always-welcome John Lustig and artist Colomer serve up an amusing confection in "Filthy Rich."  In truth, this could also have served as a "double feature."  The opening scene, in which Donald and the boys are struggling to grow exotic vegetables in their yard, and the main theme of Scrooge and Donald delivering a mysterious trunk to the King of Upper Crustovia could very easily have been developed into distinct stories.  This, despite the "linking theme" of Scrooge attempting to provision his "expedition" with indigenous "Duckburg zucchini."  In particular, I'm sorry that the veggie-growing business served merely as a curtain-raiser; I'd have loved to have seen what Lustig and Bill Van Horn would have made of that notion (especially in the salad days of their creative partnership).  There's great patter aplenty, though, and, wonder of wonders, put-upon Donald gets to savor a rare triumph over Scrooge before all is said and done.  In between parts 1 and 2 of "Rich," Stefan Petrucha and Manrique's "The Fowl is Fair!" is a rather silly and contrived tale that does little more than fill pages.

The final story in the issue, "A Trailblazing Tale" by Gorm Transgaard, Donald Markstein, and Wanda Gattino, is squarely in the tradition of apocryphal "Scrooge in the Klondike" adventures, with a few unexpected twists tossed in.  Told mostly in flashback – which, rather confusingly, is not set off from present-day doings by "bubble borders," as it probably should have been -- the story relates how Scrooge and a Klondike acquaintance, the burly Big Barnsmell (did Markstein get the idea for that name from Li'l Abner's Barney Barnsmell, I wonder?), inaugurated a long-standing traditional ritual as the result of a race to lay title to a retiring miner's claim.  (The miner says the claim is located on the fabled White Agony Creek, but I prefer to think of it as being downstream a mite from Scrooge's own legendary claim.)  Along the way, Scrooge literally invents windsurfing (!) and has collected royalties on the latter to this day.  It turns out, however, that Scrooge made a mistake telling Donald the story, since the well-meaning mallard innocently points out an oversight in Scrooge's narrative.  The story is told with snap and verve and profits greatly from Gattino's lively artwork.  BTW, in a sidebar comment, Editor John Clark informs us that "Wanda" is actually male.  Apologies for all those times I may have assumed otherwise…   

Back to the Top

Little Lulu Volume 13: "Too Much Fun" (Dark Horse).  This is one of the two Lulu volumes I gifted my niece Lulu with this Christmas.  (Alas, I couldn't get hold of the color volume, as I'd originally planned.)  My favorite story in this particular collection is "The Buzzard," in which Tubby, stood up on a date by Gloria, follows the little minx and Wilbur Van Snobbe all over the place, a humorously furious (yes, really) expression on his face.  Ultimately driving Wilbur away by his creepy persistence, Tubby abruptly reverts to his usual self after Gloria finally breaks down and asks Tubby to help her get home.  (Tubby's "switch-off" at the end is just as funny as his trailing the kids everywhere beforehand.)  When you stop to think about it, it's remarkable how well this story works despite the lack of overt explosive reaction by Tubby.  In a more conventional kids' comic, Tubby would probably have gotten in a few punches or tried to find another "girlfriend" to flaunt in front of Gloria.  Small touches like these make the Lulu stories special.

Back to the Top

(1/22/07)   

Book Review

Great British Comics by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury (Aurum Press).  This colorful volume reminds me of nothing so much as an "across the pond" version of Comix, Les Daniels' early-70s survey of the then-virgin territory of American funny books.  As in Daniels' book, Gravett and Stanbury lump together a dizzying variety of different types of British comics, ranging from hoary old classics to the most ephemeral of "countercultural" modern works.  The comics are arranged by subject matter (kids, families, sci-fi, adventure, women, etc.), with each sequence of sample strips presented in more or less chronological order.  The effect of this parallel-track structure (to someone not well versed in the subject matter, that is) is to somewhat muddy the waters on the issue of what, exactly, does constitute a "great" British comic.  I rather suspect that the trendy likes of, for example, S**t the Dog and Johnny Fartpants won't hold up as well in future years as Judge Dredd or Modesty Blaise, but Gravett and Stanbury treat each item in a particular collection of themed strips with more or less equal gravity.  Adding to the neophyte reader's difficulties, many of the strips reproduced herein are reproduced at such a small size that one literally needs an optical aid to dope them out.  This may not be much of an issue to the British reader who knows these characters and creators, but for someone who actually wants to read the doggoned – er -- bloody things, it can be a problem.  The accompanying text carries a whiff of the overwrought in its attempts to plumb social meaning, but it can easily be skimmed over when things get too thick.  The authors maintain a Web site, www.greatbritishcomics.com, which they claim includes "lots more fun and facts" (and, hopefully, larger font sizes).  Overall, this is a pretty worthwhile purchase for someone interested in broadening their panelological horizons.     

Back to the Top

(1/1/07)    A HAPPY AND SAFE NEW YEAR TO ALL MY READERS!

 Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #676 (January 2007).  In the jargon of football -- which comes so easily to mind this time of year -- Pat and Carol McGreal stage yet another "stirring fourth-quarter comeback," piloting the heretofore unwieldy and, quite frankly, unimpressive "Orb Saga" to a satisfactory conclusion.  In real time, it was actually the duo's first such "rally," since Pat McGreal reveals in a brief Afterword that this Duck and Mouse crossover was written and published before "The Mythos Island Saga."  The story was originally meant to herald the coming of the year 2000, hence all the rigmarole about Meringue the Malevolent's attempting to exploit the "elemental forces" present at the start of a new year to create a scepter of unimaginable power out of the two sinister spheres.  Meringue still comes across as an entirely overripe bad guy, but what makes these final two parts work is the simple fact that, after heretofore essaying a disjointed series of sub-adventures, the Duck and Mouse characters finally get to join forces.  In part seven, "New Year's Nightmare, Chapter 1" (got that?), the whole gang (Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie, Daisy, Scrooge, and Gyro) unites to thwart the efforts of Meringue and his hypnotized hirelings Magica De Spell, the Beagle Boys, and the Phantom Blot – well, as it turns out, the Blot has been faking it all along and is just waiting for his chance to let the air out of Meringue, though how he originally managed to thwart the sorcerer's all-powerful boojum is beyond me – to "power up" the orbs at the dawning of Duckburg's New Year.  Undaunted, Meringue steals away to the last place on Earth where the New Year will be rung in – a remote Western Samoan atoll.  (I recall seeing a plot twist similar to this once before, in a Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers story entitled "The New Year's Chase," wherein Richie and Jackie literally pursue the New Year around the globe.)  Mickey and Donald, flying Scrooge's "super-aircraft" The Vertex, follow the villain, and we get the obligatory showdown in part eight, "New Year's Nightmare, Ch. 2".  Through a combination of conch-filtered "sonic vibrations" and a convenient magical backlash, Meringue is foiled – but not before Scrooge's prized airship is wrecked, to poor Donald's dismay… 

Not the least of the virtues of these last two chapters is the return to artistic duty of Cesar Ferioli, who's at his very best.  The opening scene at Daisy's New Year's Eve party, wherein Mickey steals in to give Daisy a whirl on the dance floor, with Minnie and Donald following suit, is simply charming.  Ditto the scene in which Minnie and Daisy convince the love-struck Magica that the latter's "babe" Meringue owes her a gift – namely, the orbs.  (This one scene works better than the entire attempt to turn M&D into detective pals in the earlier chapter "Sister Sleuths.")  At one point, the Blot "tiptoes along" in a wonderful tribute to a famous scene from his original appearance.  The McGreals pitch in with some cleverly sardonic byplay between Donald and Mickey, demonstrating that their particular interpretation of Donald's love-hate feelings towards the Mouse definitely predated "Mythos Island."  Now that we know that "The Orb Saga" came first, it is clear that in this initial crossover effort, the McGreals learned a few valuable lessons in preparation for "Mythos Island" – most notably (1) the more interaction between the Duck and Mouse casts, the better; (2) make sure Ferioli's calendar is clear before submitting the script to Egmont.

The McGreals (and Ferioli) also kick the action up a few notches in part two of the newest Shambor serial, "The Protector of Shambor".  In truth, the title appears to be a little misleading, in that at least some of the action in this story will be taking place at home in Mouseton.  Having tricked Mickey into coming back to Shambor by filling the Mouse's mind with visions of Yeckim Esuom undergoing torture, the wicked ex-vizier and sorcerer entrap the Mickster, then prepare to "follow the astral trail" back to where Mickey began the journey.  Is the stage being set for a scenario wherein the villains find themselves imperiled by the pursuing Mickey and by "everyday life" in humdrum Mouseton?  It would seem a fair turnabout, given the high-adventure antics of the previous Shambor tales.  Adding spice to this particular mix is the intriguing fact that Yeckim's loyal Princess Lorac appears to be entirely too willing to throw herself into liberator Mickey's arms when he arrives on the scene.  Yeckim and Lorac had a brief dispute over the latter's attentions towards Mickey in a previous story; are we headed for more of the same?

Wait, Mickey maniacs, there's more in this issue for you.  You also get to see Mickey undergo the infamous "torture test" at the sadistic hands of "Sergeant Beau Chest" Pete in part two (or, should I say, deux) of Floyd Gottfredson's "Mickey Mouse Joins the Foreign Legion"!  I can't decide whether Gottfredson's labored efforts to craft gags relating to Mickey's painful plight takes the edge off Pete's abuse or makes it seem worse.  Scary enough is the scene in which a menacingly jovial Pete forces a shivering, unwilling Mickey to salute him for the first time.  There are many stories in which Mickey must first go through the wringer before accomplishing a worthwhile goal – in this case, cornering renegade agent Trigger Hawkes – but this one is at or near the top of the list insofar as the physical tightness of said "wringer" goes.   

Topping off a simply superb issue, we get a nice two-page Scamp gag (one of Al Hubbard's later ones) and a Marco Rota Donald story, "Lucky New Year," which goes on rather too long but is nonetheless worth following through to the end.  Donald and Daisy's efforts to reach the "SLUGS" club's New Year's Party (and if you want to know what "SLUGS" stands for, that's the whole point of the story, so I won't ruin it) seesaw between the dogged and the squalid, but I was glad that Rota recognized that the Ducks deserved a happy ending in this case.  The tale definitely benefits from a first-class dialoguing job by Annette Roman.  

Back to the Top

Uncle $crooge #361 (January 2007).  Not quite up to the dizzying standards of this month's WDC&S, but a fine ish nonetheless.  We begin with a 1963 Carl Barks tale, "Oddball Odyssey," which wasn't included in the collection of Carl Barks' Greatest DuckTales Stories but may, nonetheless, have exerted some sort of influence on the scripting of the DT episode "Home Sweet Homer."  The difference is that "Homer" featured more references to elements of The Odyssey (due in part to the fact that a magical cyclone actually transported Scrooge and the Nephews back in time to ancient Greece) than does Barks' relatively straightforward, somewhat more cynical tale, which is set entirely in the present day (well, 1963, anyway) despite its Grecian trappings.  Magica De Spell, disguised as a descendant of the sorceress Circe, first attempts (unsuccessfully) to bamboozle Scrooge into parting with his Old #1 Dime in exchange for a fake "Treasure of Ulysses," then partakes of some of Circe's real powers thanks to an accidental archaeological discovery.  You can see the Magica/Old #1 Dime theme slipping a bit out of Barks' control here – Scrooge "admits" that once he loses Old #1, he'll lose interest in the rest of his fortune!! – but Magica has seldom looked better in any other Barks story, and the action and dialogue are lively enough.  Barks doesn't appear to have been overly hampered by the story's strange formatting, a product of Gold Key's short-lived "New Look," in which the sizes of most panels are reduced and rectangular dialogue balloons replace the usual oval ones.  (The original story had borderless panels and some rather unconventional coloring, as well, but these quirks have been rectified in this reprinting.)  Overall, this ranks as one of Barks' better Magica stories.

Following a decent Gyro Gearloose tale, the always-welcome John Lustig and artist Colomer serve up an amusing confection in "Filthy Rich."  In truth, this could also have served as a "double feature."  The opening scene, in which Donald and the boys are struggling to grow exotic vegetables in their yard, and the main theme of Scrooge and Donald delivering a mysterious trunk to the King of Upper Crustovia could very easily have been developed into distinct stories.  This, despite the "linking theme" of Scrooge attempting to provision his "expedition" with indigenous "Duckburg zucchini."  In particular, I'm sorry that the veggie-growing business served merely as a curtain-raiser; I'd have loved to have seen what Lustig and Bill Van Horn would have made of that notion (especially in the salad days of their creative partnership).  There's great patter aplenty, though, and, wonder of wonders, put-upon Donald gets to savor a rare triumph over Scrooge before all is said and done.  In between parts 1 and 2 of "Rich," Stefan Petrucha and Manrique's "The Fowl is Fair!" is a rather silly and contrived tale that does little more than fill pages.

The final story in the issue, "A Trailblazing Tale" by Gorm Transgaard, Donald Markstein, and Wanda Gattino, is squarely in the tradition of apocryphal "Scrooge in the Klondike" adventures, with a few unexpected twists tossed in.  Told mostly in flashback – which, rather confusingly, is not set off from present-day doings by "bubble borders," as it probably should have been -- the story relates how Scrooge and a Klondike acquaintance, the burly Big Barnsmell (did Markstein get the idea for that name from Li'l Abner's Barney Barnsmell, I wonder?), inaugurated a long-standing traditional ritual as the result of a race to lay title to a retiring miner's claim.  (The miner says the claim is located on the fabled White Agony Creek, but I prefer to think of it as being downstream a mite from Scrooge's own legendary claim.)  Along the way, Scrooge literally invents windsurfing (!) and has collected royalties on the latter to this day.  It turns out, however, that Scrooge made a mistake telling Donald the story, since the well-meaning mallard innocently points out an oversight in Scrooge's narrative.  The story is told with snap and verve and profits greatly from Gattino's lively artwork.  BTW, in a sidebar comment, Editor John Clark informs us that "Wanda" is actually male.  Apologies for all those times I may have assumed otherwise…   

Back to the Top

Little Lulu Volume 13: "Too Much Fun" (Dark Horse).  This is one of the two Lulu volumes I gifted my niece Lulu with this Christmas.  (Alas, I couldn't get hold of the color volume, as I'd originally planned.)  My favorite story in this particular collection is "The Buzzard," in which Tubby, stood up on a date by Gloria, follows the little minx and Wilbur Van Snobbe all over the place, a humorously furious (yes, really) expression on his face.  Ultimately driving Wilbur away by his creepy persistence, Tubby abruptly reverts to his usual self after Gloria finally breaks down and asks Tubby to help her get home.  (Tubby's "switch-off" at the end is just as funny as his trailing the kids everywhere beforehand.)  When you stop to think about it, it's remarkable how well this story works despite the lack of overt explosive reaction by Tubby.  In a more conventional kids' comic, Tubby would probably have gotten in a few punches or tried to find another "girlfriend" to flaunt in front of Gloria.  Small touches like these make the Lulu stories special.

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