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Book and Comic Reviews

(5/28/07)

Comics Reviews

Uncle $crooge #366 (June 2007).  Its superb Marco Rota cover may be illustrating a story entitled "Body Swap," but what this issue really needed was a story swap, one that gave the aforementioned story the front-of-the-book respect it legitimately deserved.  Alas, the actual curtain-raiser – Paul Halas, Travis Seitler, and Miguel Fernandez Martinez' "Guilty as Charged" – turns out to be one of the weakest new lead stories this title has featured during the four-year Gemstone era.  The tale finds Scrooge shocked into inertia by the assault of a bum who screeches that the old miser is about to meet his "Judgment Day."  Donald and HD&L use a new Gyro Gearloose gimcrack to "interface with [Scrooge's] subconscious mind" and find out why he's so traumatized.  They find themselves in the middle of an other-worldly "court trial" between Scrooge and a former prospector rival who claims that Scrooge destroyed his diamond mine.  Aside from the fact that the "ethereal trial" notion has already been employed more than once in pop culture, the "convenient truth" that the prospector and the bum turn out to be one and the same person rivals Othello's famed handkerchief ploy and any number of Dick Tracy plot twists for sheer, walloping incongruity.  The ending of the story is reasonably clever given what has gone before, but the whole idea is really rather childish, as is the unexplained fact that the jury at Scrooge's trial consists of such historical figures as Napoleon, George Washington, and an unnamed Viking.  Adding to the "misery index" is the fact that this story, like WDC&S #680's "Jean Therapy," was originally slated for the discontinued pocket-book line.  The enlarged three-tier format only serves to highlight Miguel's numerous artistic shortcomings vis-à-vis Fecchi (e.g., why does the "walking" Dewey in the opening splash panel appear to be on the verge of squashing a grape with his left webfoot?).  Seitler does his best with what must have been fairly dreadful raw materials bequeathed to him by Halas, but the end result is, if I may venture to say so, unworthy of leading off an issue of Uncle $crooge

"Body Swap" ends up occupying most of the second half of the book – in a two-part format, no less – but the Lars Jensen/David Gerstein/Jose Massaroli effort is anything but a "filler" item, especially in the way it handles the well-worn "switching bodies" plot.  With the aid of a long-lost spell and a souped-up foof bomb, Magica de Spell changes carcasses with Scrooge, the better to enjoy the "good life" that Scrooge's dogged protection of the Old #1 Dime has always denied her.  This may seem a little odd given Magica's obsession with the dime, but given that her fundamental goal is the accumulation of wealth, a change of tactics to the control of existing wealth is not really that much of a stretch.  Unfortunately for Scrooge/Magica, his/her willingness to spend Scrooge's money soon puts the McDuck empire in some peril (see below), so it's back to Mt. Vesuvius to resurrect the dime-melting dream.  Meanwhile, Magica/Scrooge attempts (futilely) to convince others of her/his true identity before realizing that s/he now has access to Magica's resources.  The result is a showdown in reverse, with Scrooge/Magica (plus Donald and a platoon of – uh, McDuck guards, I guess, though they act more like regular Army troops) trying to get Magica's magic cauldron away from Magica/Scrooge!  This leads to a predictable but enjoyable ending reminiscent of the Tale Spin body-switching episode, "A Baloo Switcheroo."  From the title logo (which cleverly parodies the Body Shop chain's logo) to the energetic Massaroli artwork, this one's a delight all the way.  Sticklers for accuracy, however, may question the notion that Scrooge/Magica's brief spending spree and indifference to pressing business concerns burned through enough cash to leave the McDuck fortune only six months to "live."  When Barks' Scrooge faced such a dilemma, the "remaining life" of his fortune was always something ludicrous, on the order of several centuries.  If Magica really has that little control over her spending habits, then she'd ultimately need dozens of "lucky dimes" to keep her bank account (as opposed to her wardrobe) in the black. 

The book is filled out by a reprint of Carl Barks' 1962 story "Tricky Experiment" and "Write Thinking", a Donald opus by Michael T. Gilbert and Vicar.  "Experiment" is basically a rehash of a previous story in which Scrooge transfers his money to a seemingly vulnerable round container.  As before, the Beagle Boys attempt to get at the relocated riches.  This time around, Scrooge's specie-stuffed sphere is under his (remote) control – that is, until the Beagles break into Scrooge's suburban home (!!!!!) and nab the control switch.  Why do I get the feeling that Barks was on autopilot when doing this story?  "Thinking" is a "Donald tries to market a Gyro invention but things get out of hand" affair, with the headlined gizmo being the Think-o-Matictm (not an especially inspired handle, that), a machine that transmits a person's thoughts into written words.  Desperate to show that he can write better than TV sitcom writers, Donald is soon finding competition at every turn as Duckburg becomes a city of cerebral scriveners, first on paper and then via E-mail.  If you're thinking that Donald should soon be heading over the hills to Timbuktu, an angry mob at his heels, then you've got a long wait ahead of you:  Donald actually solves the problem of unwanted books and E-mail spam in a manner satisfactory to everyone.  Not that he ends up learning anything from the experience, but still…  This story doesn't measure up to the Gilbert/ Bill Van Horn classic "That Ol' Soft Soap" from the Disney Comics era, but the somewhat atypical ending boosts it a few points north of "average."       

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Book Review

Monopoly®:  The World's Most Famous Game and How it Got That Way by Philip E. Orbanes (Da Capo Press).  If you're a casual player of Monopoly®, you may never have managed to see a game through to the finish.  However, it won't take you much time at all to complete this breezy, informative survey of the tortuous development of the "real estate trading game" from a didactic method of teaching a 19th-century economic nostrum (Henry George's "single tax") to a pastime that is enjoyed around the world.  Orbanes is in a position to know all about Monopoly®, having written the previous The Monopoly® Companion, serving as a judge at Monopoly® tournaments, and being in touch with the many collectors and fans who have come to specialize in the game and its variants and spin-offs.  He does commit a few faux pas of a purely historical nature, however.  The ending is weak, with entirely too much time being spent on a description of Monopoly® tournaments and various individuals who have an online Monopoly® presence.  It might have been better had the book been an oversized hardback, with larger space being provided for the many illustrations of Monopoly® variants, precursors, and rip-offs.  Even so, this book is well worth reading by anyone who enjoys the game and the general history of American pop culture.  

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(5/20/07)

Walt Disney's Vacation Parade #4 (May 2007).  Precisely ONE story in this hodgepodge of recycled and new material qualifies as a "vacation story", in the strict sense of taking place during an actual vacation.  Thankfully, it's easily the most memorable of a somewhat humdrum – and, in one unbearable instance, downright disgusting – lot.  Byron Erickson and Cesar Ferioli's "Road to Trouble" is aptly named, as the tale centers on a rather stormy bout of contention between Minnie (who's come to the wilds of Arizona to join Mickey for a summer getaway) and Horace Horsecollar (who's come to pick Minnie up from the bus depot since Mickey is laid up with a bum ankle).  As they encounter obstacle after obstacle in an attempt to make it back to Mickey, The Mouse's "best girl" and "best buddy" first strike sparks due to their diametrically opposed personalities, then slowly come to appreciate one another's place in Mickey's life.  The verbal abuse gets positively nasty at times, with Horace sneering "If it was up to me, [Mickey'd] have dumped you long ago!" and Minnie responding with a chilling disdain that is positively disturbing to behold.  The duo's ultimate bonding is effective as well, especially Minnie's wistful confession that "it seems to be my lot in life to try to keep Mickey grounded in reality!  Not a lot of fun in that!"  Significantly, while Minnie saves Horace's skin twice during the trip, she reacts with icy unpleasantness the first time and genuine remorse (for her previous thoughtlessness) the second.  Erickson handles the characters' byplay with the ease of someone who really understands what makes them tick, while Ferioli's art is its usual stunning self.

The issue's lead-off story, Don Rosa's 1988 adventure "The Crocodile Collector", is also a "travel tale", but with nary an atom of "Road to Trouble"'s charm or "Heart."  The genesis of this story may explain its rather mechanical nature.  Asked to spin an entirely new story off of the Carl Barks cover to an early-50s non-Barks story with the same title, Rosa duly sent Donald and HD&L into the maw of what Barks once naively described as "Darkest Africa" in search of a rare species of croc for Scrooge's zoo, but it's pretty clear that his creative soul wasn't fully engaged in the project.  The best Rosa can do for a "running gag theme" is Donald's repeatedly frustrated attempts to use the supposedly "hopeless" quest as an excuse to take a vacation (and no, this doesn't qualify the tale as a "vacation story").  Given the elaborate build-up – complete with the obligatory Woodchuck Guidebook blurbs and the Nephews' tour-guide patter -- the Ducks' ultimate encounter with a whole temple full of "sacred" (and hungry) crocs is dispensed with in no more than a page or so.  Donald does use his smarts (a sure sign that we're reading early Rosa!) to mine some unexpected profit out of the venture and gain a rare "victory" over Scrooge.  Even so, the story fares rather poorly when compared to the majority of Rosa's adventure work for "Gladstone I" – to say nothing of "Treasure under Glass" (see this month's issue of Uncle $crooge) and Rosa's similar pre-"Life and Times" efforts for Egmont.

Donald Markstein and Fabrizio Petrossi's "Trial and Error" posits the intriguing notion of crooker lawyer Sylvester Shyster trying to ensnare Mickey in the luxuriant tendrils of a foreign country's legal system.  With Mickey having broken a silly local law that carries with it a comically draconic penalty, Shyster offers to help his erstwhile foe bargain the sentence down in court.  To no one's great surprise, it was Shyster who framed Mickey in the first place, as part of a plot to get him out of the way while Shyster and a confederate steal some valuable land.  The conceit is believable enough and takes full advantage of Shyster's standing as a crooked counsel.  What I can't accept is the identity of the country in question: Brutopia!  Even if one accepts the possibility that "Disney Earth"'s version of glasnost may have converted Carl Barks' parody of the USSR from a dictatorship into a "compromised democracy" a la modern-day Russia, it's hard to imagine Mickey being so foolish as to stop in such a dubious place just for kicks.  The creation of an entirely new country was called for here.  This doesn't really ruin the story; it just makes it a little harder to accept as "Mouse canon."

Now for the distasteful portion of this package.  Pat Block has fallen a long way from his mid-90s peak as the herald of an exciting "new generation" of Duck artist/writers, but with "Bargain Basement", it's safe to say that he (and his co-writer, wife Shelly) has reached "terminal velocity."  Fed up with high grocery prices, Donald drags HD&L to a bargain joint that sells… wait for it… only pork-related products.  Oh, be still my heart (and it soon will be, after I've eaten enough of the store's fat-laden wares).  After encountering several costly mishaps on the trip home, Don vows to use up the fridge-filling fare even if it kills him and the boys.  And I thought the Barks story in which Donald ate all those cakes, pies, and puddings as part of a crazy New Year's resolution was stomach-turning.  Replete with such gag-some lines as "No mangy mutts are gonna get my wieners!", this lard-loaded laughfest is about as unfunny a Duck story as I have ever run across.  (Besides which, it caused my triglyceride level to jump a few points by the power of suggestion alone.)

After "Basement", the rest of the issue's "filler" material goes down as easily as a Slim-Fast shake, though it's actually only marginally better than the Blocks' bacon-flavored bomb.  "Donald Learns the Ropes," a 1945 Barks story in which Donald fails miserably to back up his boast of being a great cowpuncher, is tedious in the extreme, even for an era in which Barks spun most of his "ten-pagers" out of the shorts-flavored, predictable notion of a loudmouthed Donald making a fool of himself.  The Uncle $crooge story "The Metal Detector" is one of the first Gemstone reprints from the Disney Comics era (this one from a 1992 issue of $crooge) that could not be classified as a "major" story on the order of a Rosa or Van Horn reprint.  Given that it's a fairly nondescript story (albeit one with Daniel Branca art) about Scrooge moping through a spot of depression before discovering a new mode of relaxation (hint: it has something to do with money), one wonders why the trouble was taken to revive it.  I suspect that it was dragooned into repeat service simply because it involves Donald and Scrooge going on something resembling a vacation.  The McGreals and Vicar's "The Incredible Duck," a parody of you-know-which overmuscled Marvel superhero, is disappointingly uninspired; perhaps the idea of making Donald, who is already known for his bad temper, the character to transform into the hulking green galoot was compromised from the start.  Finally, the Huey, Dewey, and Louie epic "Stand-in Sitter," dialogued by David Gerstein and drawn by someone named Horacio, achieves notoriety only as one of the former's least inspired (in places, bordering on illogical) efforts.  Overt references to such real-world stars as Wayne Newton (even Goof Troop's "Newt Wayneton" would have been better) and the use of "dregs from Unca Scrooge's water refinery" (?) and a "steel wool blanket" (??) as slapstick props sound like something thrown together during someone's lunch hour – or on the last day before one's scheduled vacation.  (Ah, NOW I see the connection…)  

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(5/6/07)

Uncle $crooge #365 (May 2007).  It's somewhat sobering to realize that Don Rosa is probably no longer capable of producing a Duck story like "Treasure Under Glass," the featured item in this issue.  Rereading the early-'90s treasure-hunting tale (one of the first that Rosa produced directly for Egmont) for the first time in a while, I was struck in retrospect by how modest in scope it actually is.  Aside from the grand fantasy of using a giant glass hemisphere to seal off an area of the sea bed for treasure hunting – or, to be more specific, for the reading of an 17th-century Spanish map which reveals the location of dozens of treasure-ship wrecks in the West Indies – the action is straightforward, the villain (Cap'n Barry Cuda, a local thug who wants to be "the only treasure hunter in this piece a' ocean!") is relatively mundane, and the obligatory reference to "real" history (the existence of a primitive diving bell that the Spanish used to ogle, if not necessarily salvage, sunken riches) plays an eminently practical role in the story, with Donald and the Nephews using the coral-encased relic as a "lifeboat" after Cuda tries to sic some sharks onto them.  Most disorienting of all -- for those steeped in Rosa's later mega-epics -- is the fact that Scrooge plays a relatively minor role (he's actually tied up during the climactic scene in which the "giant bell jar [flies] outta the sea like a kid's beachball") and Donald, of all characters, comes up with the risky but ingenious idea of building the deep-sea dome.  Yes, this is the very same hapless buffoon whom Rosa depicted in a later story as lying in a pool of his own drool!  Don does get some lumps in the end – namely, some hand-smackage after Scrooge discovers that his nephew had been razzing him while Dewey was taking a photograph – but this bit seems a rather forced way of restoring a sort of status quo.  "Under Glass" is a wonderful example of the sort of breezy, ingenious adventure that Rosa was once able to craft when he wasn't feeling obligated to sequelize Carl Barks stories (or, later, to build his multi-part monument to Scrooge's "life and times").  Rosa's current creative impotence more than likely stems from his inability to think up an idea that is sufficiently "grand" to please his über-zealous fans.  He should reread "Under Glass" and try to reorient himself.

Speaking of "disorientation," the opening panels of "A Fowl of the Future," the sequel to the previous issue's "Into the Future," are really bizarre – in terms of what they do NOT depict.  Namely, Scrooge NOT flipping out after Chip Gearloose, Gyro's "p"-dropping 31st-century descendant, abruptly appears in his office.  C'mon, this is the same guy who freaks upon the discovery of mice, "money moths," potential Beagle Boy raids, and the like.  Even though Gyro is (conveniently) in the midst of telling Scrooge about his recent adventure with Chip, Scrooge really should have done more than react with a peevish stare.  The questionable opening is the perfect segue into an equally dubious plot in which Scrooge travels to 3007 with Chip to "bawl out" the Duckburg Museum curators for leaving his "Old #1 Dime" on perilous display.  It's in character for Scrooge to worry about "Old #1's" safety in a future that he is fated not to see (notwithstanding that Matrix parody in the first issue of Donald Duck Adventures), but the plot does little with the idea.  I did like the notion of "robot dogs" being used to ingest and recycle 3007's garbage, but heck, Scrooge never even got to hector the curators, so what was accomplished here?

Like "A Fowl of the Future," Janet Gilbert and Marcal's "The Color of Money" doesn't maximize the potential of a clever idea.  In this case, the nature of comic-book tale-telling itself may have been partly to blame.  After getting bumped on the bean by Donald, Scrooge loses the ability to see colors, a fact which pitches him into a deep depression since he's grown accustomed to associating the colors of the world around him with those of money.  Soon, however, he reinvigorates his other senses, allowing him an even deeper aesthetic appreciation of money's qualities after the inevitable second bump restores him to normal.  A nice notion, but with an obvious flaw: the only way in which Scrooge's handicap can be clearly visualized is for the world to be seen from his perspective, and no such "first-person shots" are used.  The Egmont colorists try, but the back-and-forth switches from color to B&W seem arbitrary in spots.  I'd probably have limited their use to panels in which Scrooge is all by himself, as opposed to (say) conversing with Donald or the physician.  Given that all views are from a third-party perspective, even that approach wouldn't have been ideal.  Don Rosa's "The Coin" is probably the best example extant of the effective use of a first-person visual viewpoint in a Duck story; perhaps Marcal should've consulted that tale before putting pen to paper.

A Dutch Donald vs. Gladstone "filler" story, "It's Joust Love," wears out its welcome rather quickly with its inconsistent use of mock-chivalrous narration.  I'm also not too crazy about the plot twist that Don can rent (!) a brand-new Rollsmobile for a couple of hours in order to impress Daisy.  (Since Don plunges the car into a garbage pile at story's end, does that mean that the vehicle will henceforth be referred to as "pre-owned"?)  Happily, the Kari Korhonen/David Gerstein/Daniel Branca epic "Law and Disorder" gets things back on track with an ingenious twist on the eternal war of wits between Scrooge and the Beagle Boys.  The Beagles, sporting newly-minted college degrees and "early paroles" courtesy of a citywide penal-reform program (I guess the degrees they earned in Barks' "House of Haunts" must've come from an unaccredited institution, then?), strike out on a new career as law-abiding citizens.  Scrooge doesn't buy it and uses Donald as a spy, with disastrous results.  The Beagles haul Scrooge into court for slander, libel, and harassment, earning heftier and heftier fines and, finally, sticking Scrooge with a restraining order.  The funny thing is, at this point in the story, the Beagles seem to be perfectly in the right -- Scrooge IS overdoing things.  Alas, the Beagles can't let well enough alone; they maneuver Scrooge into invading their "personal space" and get him thrown in prison, then stage an invasion of the Money Bin with the help of pizza "secretly laced with knockout drops" (not to be confused with anchovies, or even scrapple – which we learn here is Scrooge's accountant Clerkly's pizza topping of choice!).  Clerkly gets a rare moment to shine as he sniffs out the plot and thwarts the robbery.  The giveaway?  Scrooge would never "[order] pricey gourmet pizzas" for his entire office staff.  David Gerstein is once again in rare form with his dialogue, and the notion of Scrooge overdoing his Beagle surveillance is delightfully believable.

The issue wraps with "The Lemonade Fling," a reprint of a 1963 "filler" story written by Vic Lockman (who, wonder of wonders, actually gets credited here) and drawn by Barks.  This could be considered a dry run for the DuckTales episode "Duck to the Future," in that Scrooge is carefully eying the Nephews' performance in running a lemonade stand.  Having financed the venture, and eager to see if the boys are "careful and honest with their money," Scrooge poses as a customer to get the inside squeeze – er, scoop, while Donald gives passersby money for lemonade.  Things quickly get out of hand as a troop of Junior Woodchucks, a circus elephant, and even a mob of grungy-looking "peace marchers" (I get the feeling the latter was strictly Barks' idea) assault the stand.  Needless to say, HD&L's honesty is letter-perfect – except for the fact that Scrooge, "groggy" from drinking 16 lemonades, left without his change.  A cute story, with several undeniably Barksian touches, and surprisingly light on the stylistic quirks that later became one of Lockman's (occasionally counter-productive) trademarks.

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Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #680 (May 2007).  Sorry to say, it looks as if the distinguished career of William Van Horn may have finally and definitively "jumped the shark."  I've occasionally been hard on Van Horn's recent tendency to "coast" and repeat himself, but this issue's "In a Minor Key" raises imitation to a new, higher (or lower) form of flattery.  It's a "shrink your characters" story (strike one: Van Horn already did one of those some time ago) in which Donald and HD&L are accidentally zapped by a "slow-beam laser dwindler" meant for military use (strike two: the beam improbably strikes the Ducks even as Donald is lamenting the unchecked growth of Duckburg and wishing that there were a way to "make the world smaller") and must travel the eight blocks to Gyro's lab while dodging all manner of hazards and obstacles (strike three: this is a near-exact copy of the situation in the DuckTales episode "Micro Ducks from Outer Space," which itself came up rather short [hyuck] in contrast to Barks' original story).  As in the TV ep, Gyro discovers the shrunken Ducks accidentally – in this case, by tripping and flopping to the ground right in front of them (well, that's certainly an apropos metaphor for this story), as opposed to nearly ingesting them in a glass of water.  There are precisely two points of light in these dreary doings: the scientist who creates the "laser dwindler" is mildly eccentric – an echo of those beloved "Van Horn loonies" of stories past – and Bill injects some tension into the proceedings by making much of the fact that the microscopic Ducks are in danger of starving.  I've no idea how many original VH stories are still in the hopper, but I've begun to worry about what's still out there.  At least Bill is still producing stories on a semi-regular basis, in contrast to certain Bluegrass State natives I could name…

Following a one-page Black Pete gag from Italy, we get an official sequel with Don Markstein and Cesar Ferioli's "King of the Bungaloos Strikes Back."  One immediate problem: the original Bungaloos story appeared in WDC&S #635, which came out almost four years ago.  (Horace Horsecollar does provide a helpful one-panel flashback for those who came in late.)  A second problem:  Mickey is the fall guy for the Bungaloos this time.  Having Mickey dress up in silly costumes and perform wacky "ancestral rituals" simply doesn't seem as effective as when Horace did it.  Unlike Horace, Mickey actually has some built-in dignity to sustain.  Maybe Goofy should've been the putative king this time; that might have made for a few good gags centering on the Goof's good-natured cluelessness, which might have given even the Bungaloos pause.  Goofy won't get the chance in the future, though, because Mickey, with the assistance of Goofy, Minnie, and Mortimer (!), convinces the Bungaloos to adopt democracy and have an elected official perform their rituals.  Thanks to Markstein for putting an end to this nonsense; a sequel was already pushing this limited idea to its… er, limit.

Stefan Petrucha and Massimo Fecchi's "Jean Therapy," a three-tier story which occupies the bulk of this issue's midsection, was originally intended for the cancelled "pocket books."  Fecchi's lively art is simply too good to toss on the scrap heap, though, and he shines in this funny (albeit exceptionally contrived) tale, which Petrucha might just as easily have used as an extremely weird script for his X-Files comic-book work.  Employment-challenged Donald becomes the marketing agent for Gyro's latest invention, "Happy Pants" – jeans with embedded magnets that lift the wearer's "emotional state."  Unfortunately, a combination of cumulative electromagnetic charges (exacerbated by Duckburgians' slavish devotion to electronic gizmos – I feel a moral coming on) and an impending solar flare threaten to turn the citizenry of Duckburg into schizophrenic maniacs.  (See what I mean about this being perfect X-Files fodder, if taken more seriously?)  Gyro builds the obligatory "deactivation device" to save the day, but Donald and Gyro must refund all their customers.  Other artists regularly featured in the "pockets" wouldn't have been able to survive having the size of their work inflated to this extent, but Fecchi is the exception.  His Nephews are feisty and adorable (though they rival Quack Pack's teenage HD&L in that they're badly in need of "feather cuts"), and he can draw smashing female characters when he wants to.  The plot is silly, but I still like the story quite a bit.  Had DuckTales enjoyed more seasons, one can imagine Fenton Crackshell filling Donald's promotional role.

A brief Dutch Br'er Rabbit story, drawn by Daan Jippes and scripted by Gerstein, contains more than the usual quota of "Southern-speak," with Gerstein's standard homages to Pogo thrown in.  The ish then wraps with a one-page Italian Fethry Duck gag and "Pecking Order," a reprint of a 1945 Barks story in which Donald labors to earn $1000 by getting a photograph of the iron-billed woodpecker, "rarest bird in the world."  Since the quarry (1) moves with lightning speed and (2) has the contentious personality of the early Woody Woodpecker (was Barks influenced by the Lantz cartoons in some way on this job?), you can imagine how successful Don is.  You can also imagine which kibitzing trio ultimately earns the prize.

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Little Lulu, Volume 15: The Explorers (Dark Horse).  More deftly-scripted neighborhood shenanigans from John Stanley et Cie., with this volume covering Little Lulu #64-68 (from roughly 1953 or thereabouts).  Though Stanley is starting to lean a little too heavily on "That Ol' Witch Hazel" in the "story telling time" segments, these tales are fully up to Stanley's extremely high level of "snuff."  The strangest story of all is the last one, "Prisoner Exchange."  Marty the Midget, a crook who is the spitting image of Tubby apart from a rather dubious-looking mustache, gets thrown in jail and begins to dig his way out with a safety pin.  "Four years later" (!!!!), he winds up in the fellers' clubhouse and dupes Tubby into thinking he's traveled all the way from China through the center of the Earth.  Crawling through Marty's tunnel, Tubby, having cluelessly exchanged clothes with the crook, is taken for Marty and given a new cellmate as a reward "for not trying to escape during the four years you've been here."  Said new cellmate immediately stages an attempted escape, only to find that Tubby/Marty's gun is a water pistol.  Of course, things get straightened out in the end after the real Marty is captured.  That "four years later" thing really threw me for a loop and a half when I first read it; it's as if Stanley were channeling The Shawshank Redemption or something.  I wonder how old Tubby and his friends were when Marty commenced with his laborious "lammage."  Great stuff.

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