and Comic Reviews
Monday, July 14, 2008
Tintin and Alph-Art
by Herge (Georges Remi) (Little, Brown). Tintin's
"Not-Quite-Last Adventure" was left incomplete at Herge's death in
1983. This 2005 album, released to commemorate the 75th
anniversary of Tintin's initial appearance, cobbles together the three
fully penciled pages, forty-plus pages of scribbled sketches, and random
notes that Herge made while wrestling with this complicated narrative of
Tintin being plunged into the seamy underside of the commercial art
world. Thrown in for good measure is a questionable "guru" whose
methods seem rather dated, even for the late 1970s. The "guru" was
undoubtedly intended to be the latest manifestation of Tintin's
arch-enemy Rastapopoulos, who had last been seen being spirited away by
aliens at the end of "Flight 714." The last sketches Herge made before
he died show the captured Tintin at the mercy of the "guru" and fated to
be encased in liquid polyester as part of a statue. However, Tintin's
dog Snowy had already gone to fetch the "cavalry" and a last-second
rescue clearly suggests itself. Most of the tale plays out as a
detective story, with Tintin trying to unravel the story behind several
art-related murders and nearly getting killed himself for his pains.
Meanwhile, Captain Haddock provides comedy relief by purchasing a piece
of "Alph-Art," a fairly ridiculous three-dimensional letter "H" which he
has a spot of bother explaining to Herge's usual parade of regular
supporting characters. The story, had it been completed, would have
been Herge's most relentlessly Tintin-focused in quite some while. I've
seen an unfortunate attempt to "complete" the story that features
ham-handed art and too "neat" of a fate for Rastapopoulos. It's far
better to let the unfinished epic stand as a rare behind-the-scenes peek
at the working methods of a comics master – albeit one in rapidly
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era,
by Walter A. McDougall (Harper Collins).
The author of the acclaimed Freedom Just Around the
Corner is back with volume two of his "New American History."
After tracing the theme of "hustling" in the initial
volume, McDougall changes his tune a mite, choosing this time to focus
on the idea of "pretense." To wit, antebellum American politics
and social structures had a consistent tendency to sidestep urgent
national issues (slavery above all) until both sides got tired of
telling lies to one another. We still meet a fair number of
"hustlers," though, especially in McDougall's enjoyable series of
miniature histories of the various states, written in the order in which
the states entered the Union. It's a fairly quick read that repays
repeat visits. I just hope that McDougall doesn't try to cover the
rest of the territory in the third volume.
Review by Joe Torcivia
POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940: DVD Review Part Two "The
Return of Bluto". DVD Set Released: June
When last we left Popeye the Sailor Man, I had noted the lack of
Bluto appearances in the cartoons that would make up the wonderful
DVD collection POPEYE THE SAILOR 1938-1940.
Well, after those first “great eight” shorts discussed in the first
part of this review, I can say that “Bluto’s back and (literally) better
Apparently, Gus Wickie , the original voice of Bluto died at
about the time the Fleischers moved their studio from New York to
Miami, and the role of Bluto was downplayed until a replacement voice
could be found.
Enter Pinto Colvig , best known as the voice of Goofy, to
step into the role. According to the Walt Disney Treasures Goofy
DVD collection, Colvig had left Disney about 1940 and had moved over to
Fleischer. I’d never realized that he’d taken over Bluto, and had
actually wondered what he DID do there.
Now, this is strictly my own opinion, and for others it could vary, but
I think Colvig may have made the best Bluto of them all! Colvig’s
Bluto is more of a comedic foil, lacking the cruel streak that
Gus Wickie had brought to the character – and that Jackson Beck
would take to new heights in the later cartoons. An analogy for modern
day Disney fans would be the quality that Jim Cummings presently
brings to the character of Pete in contemporary cartoons like “Mickey’s
Mountain” and “Mickey’s Cabin ”.
In short, he is fun to watch, and he is fun to listen to! You will
hear the difference immediately. Among the great Bluto appearances in
the collection are…
12: “Wotta Nightmare”.
A truly surreal cartoon, where Popeye’s deeply rooted fears about
Bluto and Olive manifest themselves in weird and wonderful ways. Even
Swee’Pea and Eugene the Jeep get briefly into the act. Watch out for
the “Big Bluto Laughing Face” in this one. And the final
scene, after Popeye wakes up, is priceless!
15: “It’s the Natural Thing to Do ”.
Complaints about the violence in Popeye’s cartoons prompt Olive
to coerce Popeye and Bluto into acting like gentlemen. They, and Olive,
try – they really do give it a go! But their true nature comes
through and the result is inevitable. "Complaints about violence”
in 1939? WOW! This cartoon is DECADES ahead of its time! And this
may be Pinto Colvig’s best performance as Bluto!
04: "Stealin’ Ain’t Honest ”.
Bluto claim-jumps Olive’s island gold mine. Oddly, he is far more
interested in the GOLD than in Olive -- unlike earlier or later
incarnations, where he would have stolen the gold AND near-raped Olive
to boot. (That’s part of the difference I mean about Colvig’s Bluto!)
Great scene: Bluto digs a shaft, and Popeye digs a shaft
all the way under and around Bluto’s only to have their
08: “Nurse Mates”.
Olive tasks Popeye and Bluto with caring for Swee’Pea. They
approach the job as the great comedic rivals they are at their best!
Great scene: Swee’Pea blotches-up his face with a fountain pen.
Popeye uses “spot-remover” to wipe the ink blots away, and appears
to wash Swee’Pea’s eyes and mouth off as well… until, after a beat, the
kid opens his eyes and smiles. Another great scene: Popeye
swallows Swee’Pea’s bath soap, and, after some effort, blows it (in a
bubble) out of his pipe!
Note that I describe Popeye and Bluto here as “great comedic rivals”.
That, again, is a large part of what Pinto Colvig (or the
writers reacting to Colvig) brought to the character of Bluto, and
a uniquely enjoyable aspect of this batch of cartoons.
…and the greatest for last! (Yes, there’s a SPOILER for this one!
Can’t help it!)
09: “Fightin’ Pals”.
The ultimate in playing with the Popeye and Bluto formula! Bluto is
off on an expedition to Africa. Popeye sees him off. They fight –
almost playfully (!) on the dock, and Bluto departs. As time passes,
Popeye grows to MISS Bluto and the great brawls they’ve
had together. Then a radio bulletin declares that the big
guy has been reported LOST in Darkest Africa! Popeye is off
to save his “pal”!
Popeye works his way through the jungle, fighting various animals –
becoming more determined as he grows ever weaker! To the Fleischers’
credit, he encounters ONLY wild animals – and no stereotypical African
natives! His mental image of Bluto’s plight grows more and more dire
with each agonizing step! Finally, he envisions Bluto’s DEAD
BODY, with a hungry roaring LION over it, ready to dine! Yes, really!
Finally, Popeye cannot go another step, and collapses… virtually at the
feet of Bluto, who is enjoying himself, surrounded by native girls,
palm trees and coconut milk in abundance. Bluto rushes to the
near-dead Popeye’s aid and revives him with a can of spinach that he (Bluto)
happens to be carrying for just such an emergency!
BLUTO: “Do you feel strong enough?”
POPEYE: “I feel swell!”
BLUTO: "Well, let’s go…”
And they iris-out fighting, and apparently having
the time of their lives!
I’m not quite sure yet, but this might end up being my favorite
POPEYE cartoon of all time! This is the way I’d like to picture
Popeye and Bluto forevermore – just as I regard the Bugs Bunny, Daffy
Duck, and Elmer Fudd of “Rabbit Seasoning ” as my favorite
versions of those characters.
Combine these “Bluto Classics” with some other standouts of the
collection like “Hello, How Am I?” (Wimpy poses as Popeye to
wonderfully absurd effect!) “ Wimmen is a Myskery ”,and “Popeye
Presents Eugene the Jeep ” – in addition to those I discussed in
Part One – and you have what may be the greatest and most varied
collection of Popeye cartoons imaginable! Especially in view of the
formulaic stuff that would soon follow!
Other items of interest on this set… The credits for E. C. Segar
stop at about the point Segar died. Then, coincidently,
WRITING CREDITS began appearing on the cartoons!
Writers credited were George Manuell (also seen on some very
early Warner Bros. cartoons), Tedd Pierce (best known for his
later WB work) and Joe Stultz, who enters my own personal
“Writer’s Hall of Fame” for the great “ Fightin’ Pals ”.
The "Ship Doors Opening" goes away for a short while (as of cartoon #12
on Disc One) and later returns with more modern graphics. While it is
gone, a generic title card is used for the credits... but the episode
title is superimposed over the opening scene of the cartoon - to GREAT
There is a Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoon on the set ("Mechanical
Monsters") and a six-minute feature on Popeye and Superman - who
was the first superhero? If there IS a negative to this period,
it’s that the ad-lib mutterings made so famous by the earlier series of
shorts diminish and virtually disappear during this period.
But, it’s a small price to pay for the overall enjoyable
innovation seen in this grouping! As much as I may have
recommended this set earlier on, I’ve now tripled that recommendation!
…And I still have a few cartoons and extra features to go!
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