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Book and Comic Reviews

Monday, October 29, 2007

Comics Review: THE GEMSTONE MUMMY ONE-SHOT

Kinda hard to know WHAT to call this... the cover headlines Pat and Shelly Block's "The Case of the Missing Mummy," but the reprint of Carl Barks' 1943 adventure "The Mummy's Ring" actually takes up more space.  Maybe "Mummies Alive... Times Two!"??
 
Gemstone provided absolutely ZERO advance promo for this release, which hardly seems fair, given that the Blocks produced their story exclusively for the company.  I'm sorry to say that I wasn't all that impressed with Pat and Shelly's attempt to create what the Nephews call "the first Donald Duck interactive comic book".  Possibly because the story is simply too short to make the full, walloping impact that the Blocks were apparently hoping for.  In a possible bow to Huey's travails in "The Mummy's Ring," Dewey gets "all tied up" in an ancient mummy case, from which a legendary mummy had previously disappeared right out from under security guard Donald's baffled nose.  We are introduced to several suspects, and readers are invited to read back and forth for clues.  Try as I might, however, I couldn't dope out what good the interior map of the Duckburg Museum was in the ultimate resolution of the mystery.  Pat's first story, 1994's more conventionally staged "The Mystery of Widow's Gap," actually worked better for me, specifically because the resolution was so unexpected.  One odd artistic note:  several of the supporting characters' designs have "1930s" stamped all over them.  The janitor Hapi, in particular, looks and talks like someone who just ambled over from one of Floyd Gottfredson's panels.
 
"The Mummy's Ring," of course, is famous for its ability to conjure up a sense of genuine menace, and I'm not simply referring to Donald's efforts to spy on the Bey of El Dagga (and avoid the steward, or whatever he is) on the cruise ship.  This was the first Barks story I ever read -- in a special issue of the old Disney Comics Digest -- and, as always, I welcome its return.  Barks incorporates little character shtick, preferring to let his research (via National Geographic) and the elementary power of the plot drive the story.  The use of three-tier pages gives Barks plenty of room to operate in an artistic sense.  Oh, and did I mention the gunplay and the threat of Huey being buried alive -- forever?  Great stuff. 

9:01 pm est

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Still in there pitching..... ATCHOO!!!!

Yep, I'm still here.  Just haven't had much to review of late, though I am behind on reading one of the minor Gemstone releases.  I should post something on that one this weekend.
 
Nicky and I went up to DE last Saturday to see the family.  The clan held a joint birthday party (mine was the 18th, N's is the 27th).  We got a couple of nice gifts including a Notre Dame version of Monopoly.
 
Nicky went on a lab trip today (with fellow lab personnel) to wineries in Virginia.  I'll get her to post something about it this weekend.
 
 

7:42 pm est

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Book Review: THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1965-66

One can get into a lively debate as to whether the mid-60s represented the peak of PEANUTS in an aesthetic sense.  It would be hard to argue the point, however, that the period during which this latest clutch of strips appeared saw Charles Schulz "in tune" with pop culture to a degree that he had never been before and would never be again.  Snoopy's debut as the "famous World War I flying ace" is only the tip of the salient (to borrow a term from WWI's far less glamorous trench warfare).  Schulz's creation of Peppermint Patty caught the mood of the times as well.  PP was a character unlike any Schulz had ever devised: smart-alecky, self-confident (at least on the surface), and cocky.  Schulz was wise to use her as a "special guest star" for as long as he did; it gave him time to fashion the foibles and flaws that would ultimately give PP her hard-won status as a full-fledged member of the PEANUTS universe.  As an occasional walk-on, PP is nothing less than dynamite.
Though PEANUTS DID become more "commercial" during this time (I blame one of those "big Eastern syndicates" Lucy always talked about), the bittersweet tone of the late 50s and early 60s continued to form the background music of the strip.  Snoopy's ill-fated romance with a girl beagle (who wore a bikini on the beach???) is a very heartfelt sequence.  In a strip that I don't believe had ever been reprinted until now, Snoopy actually faces the audience and asks them to "wish [him] luck" as he prepares to pop the question.  Charlie's crash-and-burn in the school spelling bee (which later inspired the plot of the feature film A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN), Snoopy's doghouse's destruction by fire, and the Van Pelt's aborted move out of the neighborhood are also featured here; each continuity has its share of painful moments.  Most touching of all, perhaps, is the Halloween sequence in which Charlie Brown alienates Linus by refusing to buy the "Great Pumpkin" story.  "Why did I deliberately go out of my way" to insult Linus, Charlie asks Snoopy in a strip that had been omitted from previous reprintings of this continuity.  "Linus is really a wonderful little guy... You know that I need all the friends I can get."  Linus WAS the closest thing Charlie Brown had ever had to a friend up to this point in the strip's history, and this strip openly acknowledged that fact.  Perhaps this was the reason why the strip was never reprinted; it suggested that Charlie, the "eternal loser," may have shared some of the blame for his plight.  Now there's a reason to "seek psychiatric help," whether it costs five cents or not.

7:42 pm est

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Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #685

This issue has far greater cause than the concurrent UNCLE $CROOGE #370 to be styled a "Halloween issue."  Marco Rota and David Gerstein swing right into the season (such as it is) in the lead story, "The Hada House."  Donald and Daisy have a mishap on the road and find themselves forced to seek succor in a creepy mansion that wouldn't be out of place in a Scooby-Doo cartoon.  And wouldn't you know it -- the caped, razor-fanged householder ultimately turns out to be a phony... so to speak.  A nice twist ending redeems what would otherwise be a by-the-numbers exercise.  I love the way Rota's "Count Rothaz Von Hada" switches from menace to mildness in the space of just two panels.  The change would have been even more effective had the panels been on the same tier.  At the other end of the issue, Donald provides a "Boo-Day Bookend" by making a monster mess of Duckburg's citywide Halloween celebration in Carl Barks' early-60s story "Jet Witch."  The circumstances under which Don assumes the title role are excruciatingly contrived, but Don's true downfall ultimately can be traced back to something as simple as a lack of attentiveness that took place long before the "series of unfortunate events" that he accidentally triggers.  In between these "Duck-pimpled" epics, Zeke Wolf has far more conscious (albeit predictable) holiday villainy in mind in the 1940s Li'l Bad Wolf saga "Halloween Hogtie."  Zeke crashes a Halloween party with the intent of ingesting a couple of Li'l Wolf's pals, but he ends up in a literal "pinch." 
 
The Romano Scarpa Mickey story "The Transmutant Gifts" isn't a Halloween story per se, but the theme of small animals mutating into larger and more dangerous ones is certainly creepy enough.  Mickey tries to crack the case -- and, intriguingly, prove his old pals Chief O'Hara and Detective Casey wrong for arresting a local scientist who proves to be innocent -- and ultimately uncovers Black Pete (with the requisite "dingus-related" assistance, of course) at the bottom of it all.  With Pete's evil ally having figured out how to reverse the transmutations, Mickey and Pete must endure a spell of cute behavior as a semi-form "cat-and-mouse duo" before returning to their traditionally-sized anthropomorphic form. 
 
The book's most unusual offering, "Happy Birthday Times Three," is
Pat and Carol McGreal's tribute to the 70th anniversary of Huey, Dewey, and Louie's first appearance.  They give it a good effort, but I'm afraid that DuckTales beat them to the idea of a Nephew deciding to assert his individuality by about 20 years.  Notice that I said "a" Nephew: in DT's "Duck in the Iron Mask," Dewey rebelled against being mistaken for his brothers, in contrast to the trio's simultaneous decision to "search for a new peer group" in the McGreals' story.  I honestly think that the former version works better; after all, couldn't HD&L's behavior here be cited as yet another example of their triune oneness?  Then, too, "Iron Mask" used the rebellion theme as a thematic backdrop to a rousing adventure.  The McGreals stick to the "domestic comedy" approach, teaming the boys up with gangs of soapbox racers, skateboarders, and surfers, letting them enjoy a few moments of fun, then revealing the bad side of each peer group in fairly predicatble fashion.  Apparently deciding (at the same time, yet!) that all peer groups suffer from the same flaws, HD&L are group-hugging once again before long.  Deep down, the plot is pretty shallow.  Just about the best thing in the lot is Donald's desperate attempt to get the local kids to buy into attending three separate birthday parties.

7:03 pm est

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #370

Scrooge has turned around many a flagging business enterprise in his day, but in this ish's featured story, Rudy Salvagnini, Giorgio Cavazzano, and David Gerstein's "Brother from Another Earth," the old tycoon is faced with improbable the task of saving a financial empire from the ravages of... himself!  The "Nega-Scrooge" is actually "Scrooge-B from Earth-D," a parallel-universe counterpart (ah-ha, so THAT explains the blue coat!), who tricks "our" Scrooge into switching places with him.  We soon learn that "Scrooge-B" had a good reason for ditching his dimension -- ten years before, a passing "radioactive meteor" had turned him into a lazy, deadbeat spendthrift barely able to keep up social appearances.  (Yep, yep, yep, those Italian stories and their surehanded grasp of logic...)  The "D" counterparts of Donald and HD&L have been "demoralized" in response to "Scrooge-B"'s moral and financial disintegration, and even wife (!) Brigitta MacBridge is having trouble maintaining her free-spending ways.  The real Scrooge pulls up his sleeves and sets about putting things to rights, starting by convincing the Beagle Boys to attempt a robbery (!) in order to make folks think that "McDuck [is] seemingly back in the dough."  The tale plays out from there in predictable but enjoyable fashion.  A pretty solid effort, and a nice salute to Scrooge's better qualities, but couldn't Rudy have come up with a slightly more believable reason for "Scrooge-B" to have gone bad?  The meteor would have more likely KILLED him than screwed up his personality.  And then there's the revelation at the end that "Scrooge-B", during his time in "our" Scrooge's spats on "Earth-A", has "shaken" the meteor's effects and wised up.  If only it were that easy.
 
Carl Barks' Gyro Gearloose tale "That Small Feeling" sorta-kinda reminds us that it's getting close to Halloween, as obeah-mocking Gyro gets an unwelcome visit from a witch doctor who needs the inventor to revivify his "shrinking doll".  One could make a claim that the story that follows, Frank Jonker and Sander Gulien's "The Spirit of Fear," also owes something to the upcoming holiday.  Magica De Spell seeks to paralyze Scrooge with "his greatest fear" -- having the sorceress swipe the Old #1 Dime -- with the help of a long-bottled soul-sapper.  Little does she know that Scrooge's true "greatest fear" is being left without the help of Donald and HD&L and being forced to protect his wealth all by himself.  Awwww... now why doesn't Scrooge raise their hourly wages, already?  Those familiar with the DuckTales episode "Nothing to Fear" will note numerous similarities between the two plots.  In truth, HD&L's "greatest fear" here is even more believable -- in a Barksian sense, at least -- than the video-game villain and menacing teacher who were featured on TV.
 
After a one-page Donald gag by Branca, Joe Torcivia attempts the impossible task of helping me actually enjoy yet another appearance by the intensely irritating alien thief, Tachyon Farflung.  In the Vicar-drawn "Uncle Scrooge Meets the Synthezoid from the Deepest Void," Tacky gets to do the "cooperation" bit with Scrooge and Donald after he accidentally attracts a metal-gulping monster to Earth during the course of yet another attempt to steal Scrooge's fortune.  In the noble tradition of past hero-villain teamups, Tacky asserts that he's decided to help his erstwhile foes because "only Tachyon Farflung is worthy of stealing the McDuck fortune!".  Things get a little silly before the end, with Scrooge and friends resorting to custard pies and giant firecrackers to hold off the insatiable automaton, but all ends happily, with some nice continuity references being lifted from the earlier Tacky stories.  Perhaps it was the way Joe wrote his dialogue, but Tacky didn't strike me as being nearly as annoying as usual this time around.  There aren't as many in-jokes as we have come to expect from Joe's scripts, either, though such expressions as "As I live and oxygenate!" and "This is your action-error, Farflung -- formulate something!" make good use of the tale's sci-fi trappings.  Where were all the Star Wars references in the "cantina scene", Joe?...

8:25 pm est

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

4691

After 14 years, the Phillies are back in postseason play!  I'm not nearly as plugged into the Philadelphia baseball scene as I used to be -- really haven't been since the 1994 baseball strike sucked a lot of the juice out of my interest in the game -- but I couldn't have been happier as I watched the Phils push past the gagging Mets in a reversal of sorts of the infamous 1964 collapse (which explains the above heading).  Hopefully the Phils can press forward to the World Series.  I told Nicky tonight that a Phillies-Yankees Fall Classic would be the ultimate test of our marriage.  :-)
 
Haven't had the opportunity yet to review the three new Gemstone Comics that came out last week -- but keep watching this space...
 

8:15 pm est

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