and Comic Reviews
Sunday, June 29rd,
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories
#691 (April 2008).
What pleasure can possibly be extracted from reading an
April Fool's Day-themed story as June fades into July? I suppose it
could be thought of as an extension of the Presidential campaign.
Certainly, like a vintage campaign commercial, Robert Klein and Jan
Gulbransson's Donald Duck tale, "The Greatest Hoax of All
Time," requires one honkin' suspension of disbelief. A member of a
club of gagsters engaged in an April Fool's prank-pulling contest,
Donald boldly proclaims that he'll come up with the best trick of all
time to hoodwink Scrooge. 300-some-odd failed attempts later, Don dons
a cheesy scientist's disguise (and accent), employs a blackmailed HD&L
as fake Martians supposedly bent on stealing Scrooge's fortune… and,
heavens to von Braun, convinces a suddenly panicky Scrooge to send his
fortune to the Moon for safekeeping. Sorry, I don't buy it for a
second. I can accept an April Fool's Day story in which the Ducks are
engaged in private, relatively low-key gaggery – Barks did a
particularly funny one in the early 50s – but stretching it out to this
elephantine extent is really testing my patience. By the end,
Klein is padding the slim storyline to the extent that Donald's
inevitable dash for Timbuktu – with an angry Scrooge and equally peeved
club members on his heels – takes fully five panels to get under way.
Gulbransson's artwork is serviceable enough, but why does Donald look no
bigger than the Nephews in the opening splash panel? For a moment, I
thought Don was Genie from the DuckTales movie.
The Dutch Donald story "Unwelcome Income"
is also a little behind the temporal curve – "celebrating" as it does
the arrival of April 15, Tax Day – but it is more successful than
"Greatest Hoax." Donald discovers that he made so little income in the
previous year that he's owed a $250 refund (uh… a tax refund in a story
produced in Holland? We're talking science fiction, right?). As
the tax assessor gleefully tries to poke holes in Don's claim of extreme
poverty, Don gets an unwelcome visit from Gladstone, who's
inconveniently remembered that he owed his cousin $10 from the previous
year. The expected "keep Gladstone away" hijinx ensue, but the story
turns out to have a twist ending that leaves the put-upon Donald well
ahead, or reasonably close to it.
April foolery reformulates in the McGreals' and Xavi's
Mickey story "Mates in Mischief," which pleases all six fans
of the "Imp from the Eleventh Dimension" by bringing that irritating Mr.
Mxyzptlk rip-off back to torment Mickey. This time, the torture is
indirect in nature, as the Imp has befriended a clueless Goofy. Goofy
dismisses Mickey's warnings of the Imp's nature as jealous carping but
changes his mind after the Imp turns Mickey into a string of sausages
(thank heavens Pluto wasn't around, eh?). Let's just say the Imp didn't
improve with additional exposure. A far more interesting (and, frankly,
bizarre) Mickey effort, Jeff Hamill and Romano Scarpa's "A
Quiet Day at the Beach," gives us nine wordless and occasionally
baffling panels of Mickey encountering weird perils by the seashore,
interspersed with thought-balloon appearances by Minnie. After fighting
to avoid the temptation of investigating a genie in a magical lamp, an
alternative dimension, and a race of pollution-protesting aquatic
creatures who strongly resemble the "fish folk" in the DuckTales
episode "Aqua Ducks," Mickey's girlfriend finally shows up for real and
reveals the point of all this: she had challenged Mickey's claim that
he's "some sort of weirdness magnet," and the sojourn on the
beach was a test of sorts. Somewhat confusingly, Minnie adds the
comment that Mickey "only [finds] trouble because [he goes] looking
for it." So which is it, Minnie? Fate or free will? The tradition
established by Floyd Gottfredson argues vehemently for the latter, which
is why I find this claim of Mickey attracting weirdness to be
somewhat silly. Perhaps this was a version of a midlife crisis, in
which Mickey is getting tired of his perilous existence and temporarily
gave in to the pessimistic notion that adventure seeks him out,
rather than the reverse. There's nothing wrong with that that a nice,
long vacation with Minnie wouldn't cure – Hamill's tetchy last panel
The highlight of the rest of the issue is David
Gerstein's retrofitting of "The Molasses Well," a Brer Rabbit
Studio story drawn by Paul Murry in the 1960s. Brer R. sidesteps Brer
Fox's attempt to lure him into a molasses-baited trap by making Brer
Bear the (literal) fall guy. It's funny stuff that makes the most of
the relatively straightforward plot idea, with plenty of the Pogo-style
"spin" that David gives to these characters. Another Studio effort,
"The Ro-Brat," features evil inventor Emil Eagle (in his first
appearance in a Gemstone comic? I can't recall another) unsuccessfully
attempting to sabotage Gyro's lab with a programmed-for-destruction
"baby robot" (geez, wouldn't the machine that nearly "leveled Mouseton"
in that Marv Wolfman Disney Comics adventure have been more efficient,
albeit somewhat messier?). Finally, Carl Barks serves up the unsubtle
but funny 1946 tale "The Smugsnorkle Squatty," with Donald
turning his beak up at the Nephews' new mutt Tagalong and getting a
highly pedigreed do-nothing of a dog instead. Tagalong winds up saving
the Ducks' house following "Grand Genius III of Old Siwash"'s
inadvertent retrieval of a stick of dynamite. "Don't judge a bark by
its cover" is the simple message here, and it's an easy sell for me,
since three of the five dogs I've personally cared for have been
mixed-breed (though none nearly as piebald as Tagalong, who literally
appears to have been pieced together from disparate dog-parts).
Back to the Top
(Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures).
Would you believe… I'm not going to do any more obvious homages to the
1960s TV series? The standard Get Smart shtick is trotted out
several times during this so-so movie adaptation, but never so much as
to become annoying. The "original" parts of the movie are more
problematic. Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is now a nebbish CONTROL
analyst who yearns to put the "Peter Principle" to the test by becoming
a full-fledged agent. After KAOS trashes CONTROL's compromised HQ
(which, in a bit of shoddy editing, reverts back to normal in a
subsequent scene before returning to its broken-down state), the Chief
(Alan Arkin) has no choice but to anoint Max Agent 86 and team him up
with ultra-competent but chilly Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) in an effort to
unravel the conspiracy, which turns out to be the fairly standard
"nuclear blackmail" fodder, with the added twist of a duplicitous
CONTROL agent. The movie borrows shamelessly from Moonraker,
True Lies, Entrapment and any number of other flicks and uses
more crude humor than I would have liked to have seen. Still, Carell
makes a reasonably believable Max without aping Don Adams' original.
Funny cameos include Bernie Kopell (from the original series) as a
peeved Opel driver and Patrick Warburton as Hymie, the robot agent,
whose appearance at the end practically screams "sequel." (A pair of
original characters – techno-dweebs who built and control Hymie – have
already spun off into a direct-to-TV feature of their own.)
Back to the Top
Monday, June 23rd,
#376 (April 2008).
If you squint real hard, you might catch a few fleeting
references to Easter – apart from the title, that is – in this issue's
opening story, "Uncle $crooge and the Easter Eggs-port." Given
the two-month delay in this issue's release, however, it may be best not
to squint. Instead, you should just sit back and enjoy David Gerstein's
superb (even by his elevated standards) dialoguing job on this
intriguing, albeit strangely drawn and borderline illogical, Romano
Scarpa-choreographed Italian effort from the mid-1960s. Faced with the
task of getting his rich gold deposits out of a Latin American country
that has just been taken over by a greedy dictator – the parallel to the
DuckTales episode "Allowance Day" is striking – Scrooge stumbles
upon the idea of mixing the gold with grain, feeding it to hens, and
shipping the gold out hidden inside the hens' eggs. Physiologically
speaking, this strikes me as improbable – though Scarpa has certainly
tested my patience in more severe ways -- but we accept cartoon physics
in most cases, so why not cartoon digestion as well? The Beagle Boys,
who're touring a neighboring country with their trained hawk in a
desperate attempt to make ends meet (and justify their
involvement in the story), get wise and launch "Operation Easter Parade"
to short-circuit Scrooge's smuggling and get the gold for themselves.
With Gyro Gearloose's help – plus a last-second deal that has the added
effect of toppling the government – Scrooge, Donald, and HD&L are NOT
left with egg on their faces. This summary does scant justice to David
G.'s script, which rustles up references from everywhere – classic rock,
Warner Bros. cartoons, you name it. Scarpa's bottom-heavy Ducks and
(especially) Beagles simply don't look right, so it's up to David to
carry this one across the finish line, and he succeeds grandly.
In Pat and Carol McGreal and Rodriquez' imaginative
"The Richest Tycoon in the World," Scrooge once again determines to
get that pesky sorceress Magica De Spell out of his feathers once and
for all. Forget hit squads, spies, and such; Scrooge does something
much more drastic – he surreptitiously helps retail tycoon Ike Amberson,
whom he'd earlier squelched at a "seminar for near-gazillionaires," to
temporarily become the richest man in the world, at least on paper. The
next time Magica shows up, Scrooge simply points out that his Old #1
Dime no longer has the talismanic power Magica craves. (Far be it from
me to question Scrooge's logic, but wouldn't a coin owned by one of
the world's richest men fit Magica's needs just as well?)
Unsurprisingly, Scrooge soon misses the thrill of being #1. We soon
learn why Scrooge didn't cede the pole position to the equally chintzy
Flintheart Glomgold as we watch the gleeful Amberson spend money left
and right to celebrate his newfound status. Since money has no
sentimental value to Ike – a failing earlier roasted by Scrooge at the
seminar – he has no problem giving his first dime (which he'd actually
lost before his mother returned it to him) to Magica. Scrooge
delays Magica's return to Mt. Vesuvius just long enough for Ike to break
his bank (actually, it really should have taken a lot longer than
one afternoon…) and returns to the top of the pile. The logic creaks
loudly in a couple of places, but the basic idea is strong enough for
the story as a whole to work for me.
Next, Lars Jensen, David Gerstein, and Vicar's "Happy
Birthday, Flintheart Glomgold" (which, judging by the date code,
was produced in time for the 50th anniversary of Flinty's
first appearance in Carl Barks' "The Second-Richest Duck") finds Scrooge
and Donald arriving at Glomgold's South African money bin to give
McDuck's misanthropic measuring stick some wholly unexpected birthday
greetings. The inevitable catch? As a "gift," Scrooge has dug up
Glomgold's nephew, Slackjaw Snorehead, and proceeds to foist the
heavy-lidded slacker on "Uncle Flinty." Having recently learned that
Flinty is close to overtaking him in wealth, Scrooge figures that trying
to find Slacky a decent job will keep Glomgold distracted long enough
for Scrooge to retrench. The kicker is that Slacky (who quickly finds
common cause with Donald, big surprise there) is actually an idiot
savant of sorts with a nose for business deals. Slacky and Donald
work together to get the oldsters out of their hair, and a coming sequel
is clearly telegraphed before story's end. Glomgold may have had
visiting relatives in other Egmont stories, but, even so, I'm amazed
that it took this long to hit upon so obvious an idea. Glomgold's
self-imposed isolation (he's left to wish himself "Happy
Birthday" in the final panel, with the aid of several strategically
placed mirrors) further burnishes his image as a Scrooge-like character
who never got out of the "Christmas on Bear Mountain" phase.
After a reprint of Carl Barks' 1964 story "Delivery
Dilemma," which actually abuts several other stories in the
issue – Donald trying to avoid being drafted into "business service" by
Scrooge a la Slackjaw with Glomgold, Scrooge's need to deliver valuable
cargo while fighting off the Beagle Boys, and, lest we forget, the
Beagles' use of supposed "wild rabbit eggs" as part of the scam effort –
the book ends quietly with a Dutch tale, "Driven to Distraction."
I should say, "ends with a snore," as Scrooge unaccountably falls asleep
while piloting Gyro's new computer-driven automobile to the money bin
with a load of cash in the trunk. A Beagle attempt to hijack the cash
is foiled by Gyro's nick-of-time redirection of his auto-pilot
automobile to the state prison. I put this one down to Scrooge's
advanced age, since I find it hard to believe that a younger McDuck
would be so careless as to nod off with so much money in tow.
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DVD Review by Special Guest Reviewer Joe Torcivia
POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940: Disc One (Partial Review:
First Eight Cartoons) DVD Set Released: June 17, 2008.
What a great series of Popeye cartoons we have to open
Disc One of this new set!
By 1938, Max and Dave Fleischer have clearly
broken with the formula they established early on… and the one that the
Famous Paramount studio would do to death in their later Popeye
cartoons. You know… Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, triangle, spinach,
In the first EIGHT cartoons on the disc, Bluto –
and the formulaic conflict he brings with him – is nowhere in sight,
save for a cameo appearance AS A PHOTOGRAPH (!) in the first one. In
these eight alone, we have a diversity of cast that would be
unimaginable in later years. Popeye, Olive, Wimpy, Swee’Pea, Eugene
the Jeep, Poopdeck Pappy, the Goons… and, of course, the
photograph of Bluto that (not unexpectedly) steals the only scene
that it’s in!
Before continuing, I should say that, despite my comments
above, Bluto is one of the great villains in the history of theatrical
animation, and most (if not all) of his appearances on the first
POPEYE set (1933-1938) were very enjoyable. But, in times to come,
he will wear out his welcome (at least to me) and it is with this
knowledge of what lies ahead that I take this position. But, if we go
much longer than these first eight without him, I’m going to really
start missing the big lug!
Here’s a (relatively, but not completely)
Spoiler-Free recap of those first eight cartoons…
01: “I Yam Love Sick”.
Enraptured in romance novels, and aided by a huge box of chocolates from
Bluto – and that scene-stealing photograph – Olive totally ignores
Popeye, to the point where he has to play sick-and-dying to get any
attention. “I must be losin’ me sex repeal, or sumpthin’!”
mutters the sailor man, in one of those famous Jack Mercer
ad-libs where Popeye’s mouth doesn’t move! She takes him to the
hospital, where he continues to play almost-dead… until it’s time to
02: “Plumbing is a Pipe”.
I’m guessing that, in ye olde-tyme slang, if something was “a pipe”, it
was easy or “a cinch”. Olive springs a leak in her kitchen, which she
compounds – and Popeye compounds much further. Wimpy is great as the
plumber, who keeps forgetting things or has other excuses like Lunch to
keep from getting on the job. He gets his later!
03: “The Jeep”.
Swee’Pea keeps trying to escape Olive’s very high apartment, by crawling
out the window. She thwarts him (Saying that he’s giving her “Populations
of the heart!” – on first play it sounds as if she says: “Copulations
of the heart!”), until he finally gets out! Popeye shows up with
Eugene the Jeep (a “magical dog”!) who can accurately answer any
question, disappear and reappear, and track anything with his uncanny
abilities to walk through walls, on air, or anywhere else. He tracks
the missing Swee’Pea, leading Popeye on a merry – and painful – chase
and to a great ending!
This is one of the two best cartoons on the disc so far!
Though it is not an origin for “The Jeep”… he’s just there with Popeye,
visiting Olive. Oddly, his animated origin occurs in “Popeye
Presents Eugene the Jeep”, which is the LAST cartoon on Disc Two –
and was apparently produced by the Fleischers about TWO YEARS after this
The latter Jeep cartoon contradicts the former, in
dealing with Eugene’s origins, but that’s to be expected from Golden Age
animation. The presence of the second cartoon, a good explanatory
commentary on this cartoon, and an extra feature
mini-documentary, “Eugene the Jeep: A Breed of His Own”,
detailing the Jeep’s comic strip origins, help ease (…or maybe they ADD
TO) the confusion over this odd and wonderful character.
Oh, and try to watch this one and not be reminded of
PFLIP, Eega Beeva’s version of a “magical dog”, from Floyd
Gottfredson and Bill Walsh’s MICKEY MOUSE comic strip of the late
‘40s – early ‘50s! Especially the story “Pflip’s Strange Power”
that was reprinted in WDC&S # 667 (2006). Something tells me
that Pflip owes Eugene the Jeep a small debt, at the very least!
04: “Bulldozing the Bull”.
Popeye’s in Spain, Mexico, or somewhere that bullfighting is popular.
In this unexpectedly superior cartoon he demonstrates the more modern
attitude (…and certainly not the prevailing attitude when this cartoon
was made!) that the sport of bullfighting – and especially the killing
of the bull – is cruelty to animals! Olive is the obligatory senorita
(presaging the sort of role-playing she’d often do in later outings),
and a seating mix-up leads to Popeye being a reluctant toreador. Lots
of good gags, and a great surprise ending that I will not spoil!
Popeye’s steadfast values here left me clapping! That’s the Popeye I
love from the comics, unflagging ethics and all!
05: “Mutiny Ain’t Nice”.
One of my general complaints about the POPEYE series is that he
isn’t shown often enough to be a SAILOR! Well, here he captains his own
cargo sailing ship, with a rough and dangerous crew to boot. Olive
falls into a trunk and is brought aboard as they shove off. The crew
believes that females are bad luck on a ship and, when they find Olive,
they mutiny against Captain Popeye and try to kill Olive. The great
thing about this one (…and it’s only a small spoiler in the greater
scheme of things) is that Olive finds that she ACTUALLY ENJOYS leading
the murderous crew on a wild chase! Popeye, once regaining control,
enacts a solution that satisfies everyone – just not the way any of them
The best cartoon on the disc so far – and more of an adventure in the
E.C. Segar comic strip tradition than the usual animated comedy. Popeye
sails (Yes, he’s a sailor again!) to the mysterious “Goon Island”, to
find his lost “Poopdeck Pappy” who left 40 years ago, when Popeye was a
baby! Was Pappy animation’s first “deadbeat dad”? The Goons AND Pappy,
from the Segar strip, are introduced in this one!
Pappy is a prisoner of the Goons, and wants no part of
his son, until the Goons capture Popeye and try to kill him by staking
him at the foot of a cliff and dropping a boulder on him. Pappy downs
the spinach, which the Goons removed from Popeye, and saves the day.
The Goons are dealt with by a remarkable fourth-wall-breaking device
that is both extremely clever and looks somewhat out of place at the
same time. You judge for yourself. Its unexpected surprise value goes
a long way toward selling it, though!
This is a magnificently designed cartoon! Everything on
Goon Island is eerie looking… especially for a cartoon of this period!
As with the introduction of Eugene the Jeep, a good explanatory
commentary on this cartoon, and an extra feature mini-documentary, “Poopdeck
Pappy: The Nasty Old Man and the Sea” detail Pappy’s comic strip
07: “A Date to Skate”.
With Bluto still among the missing, Popeye convinces a VERY reluctant
Olive to roller skate in one of those old roller skating palaces. As
expected, Olive soon careens out of control, onto the street, wreaking
havoc on the outside world! The Fleischers continue to marvelously play
with “The Formula” by having Popeye FORGET TO BRING HIS SPINACH on the
skating date! “I must be gettin’ OLD! Don’t tell me I left it
HOME!” Don’t worry; he gets some though a device we’ve seen in some
other cartoons. And, as when she was pursued by the crew of murderous
mutineers, Olive ends up enjoying her near-death-ride for the sheer
thrill of it all! This is a take on the usually timid Olive that we
seldom saw! I guess THAT’S what Popeye sees in the old scarecrow!
08: “Cops is Always Right”.
A funnier than expected cartoon, where Popeye and his little
crank-start, puttering car continuously run afoul of a gruff police
officer. And he helps Olive with spring cleaning to boot. Popeye comes
across a little more ignorant of the law than you’d expect even a
one-eyed sailor to be, but it works anyway because the officer is such a
good one-shot antagonist.
The DVD set offers audio commentaries on SIX of the first
eight cartoons. These are actually good, informative commentaries by
animation figures with something of value to contribute – not seven
minutes of John Kricfalusi and friends laughing at what they see!
Alas, as was the Fleischer practice of the time, there
are no writing credits on any of these first eight cartoons. Though,
story credits begin during the period covered by this DVD set, as the
second Jeep cartoon lists a story credit. The lack of credits early-on
is a particular shame, as the cartoons discussed in this review
comprised a very innovative portion of the series, story-wise. I’d sure
love to know who wrote these!
The Fleischer animation is always tops, and Jack
Mercer and Mae Questel (though Questel is replaced in some of
these) are magnificent as Popeye and Olive – especially with their
frequent and outright funny ad-libs! Indeed, at this particular point
in the history of animation, they would have been the most entertaining
animation voice actors of their time. But, look out for Mel Blanc
lurking in the shadows…
So, on the basis of the first eight shorts (…and I have
little expectation that this will change over the balance of the set),
POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940 is highly recommended by
this reviewer! And… Hey, Bluto? We’ll see ya soon, ol’ pal!
Back to the Top
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Jim McKay… Mr. Olympics and so much more. I'm a little young to clearly
remember the 1972 Munich Olympics and the job he did covering that awful
situation, but I definitely remember him introducing the 1980 "Miracle
on Ice" broadcast on tape delay. How hard it must have been for
him to have put on that poker face and kept the news to himself that the
U.S. had shocked the Soviets.
Also: Folks on the Disney Comics Mailing List are reporting that Don
Rosa has decided to retire permanently. Not that I had seriously
expected him to go on, given his all-too-evident state of creative
exhaustion (exacerbated by the insatiable demands of his European
acolytes) and the eye trouble that recently forced him to undergo an
operation, but this is unfortunate news. Perhaps it's time to begin
putting Rosa's work into some true historical perspective – though that
may be more of a task for an article in The Harveyville Fun Times!
(shameless plug) than a blog entry.
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Walt Disney's Spring Fever
Three Gemstones finally found their way to the comics shop this past
week, but I'm reviewing the quarterly first because, well, Spring is
just about over. None of the stories have much of a connection to the
season, and even Bill Van Horn's cover gag of Donald blowing
heart-shaped soap bubbles to impress (or not) Daisy appears to owe more
to Valentine's Day than to the famed "a young man's fancy" conceit.
Still, it's a pretty decent package, all things considered.
Carl Barks' 1943 story "Too Many Pets" leads off, and completists
beware: This is a slightly altered version of the "Mummy's Ring"
backup. The phrase "Near a busy factory…" is deleted from the panel in
which the spy who has bought HD&L's mischievous pet monkey Jingo
prepares to reveal his plan to use the agile ape to steal military
secrets. Since we can plainly see the doggone factory in the
background, I don't have a problem with this. However, if superfluous
narration was targeted for elimination, then why wasn't the equally
de trop caption "The crook leans back with his hands behind his
head!" excised as well? And what happened to the writing on the
decorative "peace and love" banner in the first panel on the final
page? Strange doings, indeed. The key plot point involving Jingo
throwing things at anyone who puts his hands behind his head has always
struck me as "but awfully" contrived. Still, this "filler" story
compares favorably with most of the early three-tiered tales that Barks
produced for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories.
Noel Van Horn's "Sticky Business," Goofy and Mickey run afoul of
Goofy's fastidious, posy-raising neighbor as they attempt to give The
Goof's roof a coat of rain-repelling tar. Noel's Dad probably would
have made the neighbor even lighter in the loafers, but Noel handles the
slapstick doings (which, perhaps inevitably, culminate with
everything in sight getting "sticky with it") reasonably well. Daan
Jippes, as is his wont, also does quite well by Barks' early-70s script
for the Junior Woodchucks tale "Music Hath Charms." This
story departs from the familiar formula of the JWs battling eco-ravaging
Scrooge to present a more standard Donald vs. HD&L scenario. In this
case, Donald uses Gyro Gearloose's rat-attracting musical pipes (which,
the inventor has discovered, can also charm children if tuned to the
correct frequency) in an attempt to prevent HD&L and their peers from
winning a race with the Littlest Chickadees and garnering additional
trophies and medals to clutter up the Duck residence. Here is one
instance in which I actually sympathize with Don – not least because the
boys make a big deal out of not wanting to lose to "mere" girls.
Needless to say, Jippes' art is much livelier than Kay Wright's ("It'd
be impossible not to be!" the Nephews chime in, in DuckTales
main highlight of the issue, Byron Erickson and Cesar Ferioli's "A
Blot on Their Friendship," teams up Mickey and Donald in an
adventure for the first time in a while, and it's a first-rate one.
Donald still harbors resentment towards Mickey for always getting him
into trouble on such jaunts – in this case, he even refers to a recent
escapade in which Mickey literally "got the girl" (do Minnie and Daisy
know about this??) – so his decision to ask Mickey to help him literally
"plunge into the jungle" and seek out Camcordia's "Lost Temple of
Banghor Mash" seems odd on the surface. Something peculiar is afoot,
though, and you can tell because Don's eyes glaze over on occasion.
Sure enough, The Phantom Blot turns out to be behind it all, having put
"that annoying waterfowl" (his words, not mine –though they very well
could be) under mind control and programmed him to lead The Mouse
into a deadly confrontation with a giant spider. Now, if it had been
me, I'd have told Donald to bump Mickey off in Duckburg, as
opposed to bringing him to a hideout where I'm planning to clone giant
spiders for a presumptive attempt to take over the world. This is The
Blot, however, and half the fun of his death traps for Mickey is their
sheer level of contrivance. Cleverly, the machete-wielding Don drives
off the spider not because he's suddenly braver than usual, but because
he's angry at being distracted from his upbraiding of Mickey for having
gotten him into yet another fine mess. Additional Erickson stories
along these same lines would be greatly appreciated.
The book wraps with
"Tabloid Tattletale," a rather silly Uncle $crooge story
from Holland in which Scrooge's long-ago "recruitment" by a band of
would-be bank robbers somehow results in his founding a popular gossip
magazine; a two-page Floyd Gottfredson Sunday-page gag from 1932; and,
amazingly, a Vic Lockman gag from the "Gladstone II" era that has not
aged well at all, even given the fact that it was rather overripe to
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Friday, June 6, 2008
Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East,
by Michael Oren (Norton). Any parochial notion that America only
recently stumbled into the maelstrom of Middle Eastern religious and
political conflict will not long survive this entertaining, though
flawed, survey of Americans' encounters with the region since the War of
Independence. Oren identifies three overarching themes that have shaped
the country's attitudes towards the Middle East (they're right there in
the title, in case that weren't already obvious) and sticks manfully to
this tripartite structure through the volume, though the last chapter,
which covers the period from the birth of Israel to the Iraq War, is
hopelessly rushed and inadequate. A large number of typos and avoidable
errors of fact, coupled with a prose style that can best be described as
earnestly clunky, will probably set one's teeth on edge more than once,
but there is plenty of information here that will come as a surprise to
the average reader (for example, did you know that American
veterans of the Civil War – both Union and Confederate – essentially
created the Egyptian army? I certainly didn't). It's not a book I care
to own, but I'm glad to have read it. One suggestion, Mr. Oren:
Describing each and every personage's physical appearance is a luxury,
not a requirement!
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I'll really have to pick and choose my "popcorn movies" of choice this
Summer. Speed Racer – nah. Get Smart – perhaps,
especially since Steve Carell is a good choice for the lead role.
Indiana Jones and the Midlife Crisis, er, Kingdom of the Crystal
Skull – probably not worth the exorbitant theater prices. Iron
Man, however, is the real deal, fully worthy of its excellent
reviews. Just as in the X-Men flicks, Iron Man provides a
to-the-point introduction to the Marvel comic-book hero without bogging
its storyline down in fanboy-targeted minutiae. To no one's surprise,
munitions magnate Tony Stark's main theater of operations is shifted
from Southeast Asia (in the early 60s, he originally fell into the hands
of Communists) to Afghanistan, but the film avoids taking political
sides concerning the War on Terror. Rather, the focus is on Stark's
gradual transformation from irresponsible playboy to defender of the
helpless. (Does the phrase "With great power comes great
responsibility" ring a bell? Too bad another Marvel star has already
co-opted it.) The acting performances are uniformly excellent, with the
much-put-upon Robert Downey Jr. in particularly good form. There's just
enough humor to lighten what could have been a drearily grim-faced plot
about corporate skullduggery and double-dealing. The ending kicker is
first-rate, as well. I do have a queasy feeling that Paramount should
stop right here and not even consider making a sequel that would
most likely take the short cut of emphasizing multiple punch-outs of the
"rock 'em sock 'em robots" variety, such as the one that dominates the
last 15 or 20 minutes of this movie. Even if they do, at least they got
it right the first time.
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Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Well, now, what did
I do for Rick Norwood and Donald Markstein to merit them sending me
a completely unexpected, unsolicited issue of their "classic comics"
reprint mag? I've seen this title on the racks at numerous comics
stores but never gave one a tumble. Sorry to say, I don't think I'll
start to purchase it based on this assumedly representative issue. Not
that Rick and Don choose unwisely; reprinted herein are hunks of
continuities from such fine strips as Steve Canyon, Gasoline
Alley, Rick O'Shay, Buz Sawyer, and Alley Oop
(from before Oop and friends began time-traveling). The fact
that the continuities are divided into parts – meaning that some stories
are concluded herein, while others are just getting underway – is
annoying. Far more problematic is the poor reproduction of some of the
strips. Poor Milton Caniff (whose massive biography, by R.C. Harvey, I
hope to be reading soon) comes off worst, with his characteristic dark
inking and shading being jumbled into muddy murkiness in several places.
Thanks, guys, but I think I'll pass on a subscription.
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