Saturday, September 22, 2007
Comics Review: UNCLE $CROOGE #369
I suppose you could call this the "Who Knew?" issue, as in: Who knew that
Tony Strobl and Daniel Branca could actually WRITE as well
as draw? Before addressing those anomalies, however, I have to grant pride
of (first) place to the splendid lead story, "Healers of the Andes".
This Dutch effort, drawn by Mau Heymans and scripted with panache, elan, and
other French elucidations of excellence by David Gerstein, combines some of
the best qualities of Carl Barks' "Lost in the Andes", "Ghost of the
Grotto", "In Old California", and any "Pig Villain" story one could name.
Argus McSwine hatches a fiendish plot aimed at Duckburg's elite, suckering
them into buying a series of "tycoon tonics", each of which carries with it
an unpleasant side effect that forces the user to buy the next physic in the
progression. Scrooge ends up literally turned blue (no, he doesn't
subsequently acquire the powers of a genie!), and he, Donald, and HD&L are
forced to head for Peru, where, according to the Junior Woodchucks'
Guidebook, the Hinca Indians once created "the first universal
cure-all in history!". McSwine and the Beagle
Boys follow in an effort to stop them. Posing as a local guide, McSwine
employs his usual "direct approaches" in order to keep the Ducks from
snagging the sensational serum, ultimately burying them under a ton of
rubble. The rockslide also frees the Hincas from their hidden valley, and
their Elizabethan-inflected chief subsequently cures the battered Ducks of
their aches and pains. McSwine and the Beagles square off against the Ducks
for the recipe, and suffice it to say that (1) the bad guys "take their
medicine" in the end, and (2) Scrooge achieves only a partial victory after
originally dreaming of making a fortune off the cure-all formula. My only
complaint is the Ducks' puzzling inability to recognize their "guide" as McSwine
in the first place. I mean, after all, the guy's mug is on the "Swineco
Serums" bottle that the Ducks are toting around with them all the while!
Such zany supporting players as a "mountain expert" who attempts to tell the
Ducks all about the local peaks -- starting with their formation in the
Jurassic Era (!) -- and a Peruvian tough guy who doesn't take kindly to the
Beagles' attempt to "fish" for his wallet add just the right amount of
wackiness to a fine story that can stand up to the Barksian "competition"
without seeming overmatched in the least.
"The Saga of the Debit and Credit Ledger", produced by Strobl for
the Disney overseas comics program in the mid-60s, may have an uninspired
title, but it does definitely demonstrate that Strobl could, indeed, have
written good Duck stories for Western Publishing had he been given the
opportunity. As Scrooge tots up credits and debits in an accounting
journal, Donald attempts to prove his business mettle to his uncle by making
a success of a salvage operation at "The Watery Wild Windy Caves of
Winnetka." What follows can best be described as good old-fashioned "bad
Duck luck," as Don first discovers an underwater city of gold that's being
eroded away by the currents, then inadvertently scuttles Scrooge's efforts
to scoop up the rich residue. The artwork looks pretty much the same as
that of Strobl's contemporary efforts for Western/Gold Key, except for
some rather peculiar-looking "eye effects" when Don is wearing his diving
helmet. The dialogue is sprightly and very much of a piece with the Carl
Fallberg/Del Connell/Vic Lockman scripts of the time.
Daniel Branca (with story help from assistant Wanda Gattino and dialogue)
subsequently displays some fairly decent writers' "chops" of his own in
another ocean-going epic, "Sub-Sub-Zero." With his cargo ships
vanishing left and right, Scrooge drags Donald and the boys onto a
"second-hand sub" to investigate (at least he took the Nephews, rather than
Doofus, with him, unlike DuckTales' "Aqua Ducks"). After tumbling
into the "sub-sub-zero" depths, the Ducks unaccountably discover a
cavern with breathable air and subsequently encounter a band of slightly
wacky natives who look to have been relocated from one of Carl Barks' jungle
stories for the duration. The natives, a strange combination of
sophistication and primitivism, rely upon a "forcefield" (huh?) to keep the
sea at bay and an elaborate canal-like system to cool the magma of a nearby
abyss, but McDuck's ships, sucked into the cavern, have fouled up the
process and put the population in peril. Scrooge agrees to reroute his
ships (but what about all the other shipping concerns and
private boaters who didn't get the word?) and recovers the most precious of
his cargoes -- a collection of stamps he'd been sending to San Juan to
compete with Flintheart Glomgold's collection in the World Stamp
Exposition. The grateful natives end up lending an inadvertent hand to
Scrooge's philatelic pursuits, leaving Flinty stomping in fury. The wrap-up
is a little loosely wound for my tastes -- how could the "lost" natives
possibly use "sea mail" to begin with, anyway? -- but Branca's ever-lively
artwork cancels out most of the plotting defects.
This is the issue of U$ that "officially" commemorates the 20th
anniversary of DuckTales, and David G. marks the occasion with a
nice essay on the topic. Also included is the four-page DT tale
"Back in Time for a Dime", which originally ran in the DuckTales
children's activity magazine in 1990. Insubstantial in itself, this story
merits attention simply because Don Rosa provided the original script. This
doesn't mean, however, that the story's inclusion of Bubba
Duck as a supporting player indicates that Rosa accepts Bubba as a canonical
character! As David explains, Rosa's editors were the ones who decided to
shoehorn Bubba into the story. (Phew, for a minute there, I thought that
Rosa was suggesting that DuckTales took place in the 1950s, all
those 1980s-era pop culture references notwithstanding.) This will almost
certainly be Bubba's one and only appearance in a "classic" American Disney
comic book -- spot illo's in the Gladstone I DT title aside -- so
those of you who cotton to the caveduck will want this issue in your
The issue concludes with one of Barks' more memorable "filler" stories
(non-Gyro Gearloose division) from the Dell U$ era, the 1955-56 tale
in which Scrooge works like a demon to profit from a "square inch of land"
deeded to him as a breakfast-cereal premium. Scrooge ends up several
million dollars in (or down) the hole, which never seemed quite fair to me,
since he is simply trying to maximize his resources (e.g., he sends Donald
and HD&L cross-country buying up cereal in order to amass enough land on
which to drill an oil well) as opposed to cheating someone out of
something. Perhaps Scrooge was being chastised for claiming to divine his
future fortunes from the bubbles in his coffee. The "magic hourglass" was
questionable enough, but the coffee-bubble scheme makes that earlier misstep
of Barks' seem quasi-believable.
8:50 pm est
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
More Expensive by the Dozen
My sister Sarah is expecting a fourth child! Due date is late April or
early May. This will make an even dozen nieces/nephews for Nicky and
myself. At least there will be plenty of hand me downs available (from
multiple sources, no less!) for the newcomer.
I've submitted a script (to be precise, a rewriting of a script's existing
dialogue) to Gemstone for possible use in a future issue of their comics.
It's a short DuckTales story starring Scrooge and Launchpad McQuack.
Not sure when (or if) the thing will get into the publication pipeline, but
there's always room in the prestige-format titles for filler material.
Meanwhile, I'm looking forward eagerly to Joe Torcivia's next Uncle $crooge
script, which should be out in the next issue of U$.
Speaking of Mr. McDuck -- I haven't been able to post a review of Uncle $crooge
#369 because my time has been taken up with grading, test prep, and tomorrow
night's initiation ceremony for VJC's mathematics honor society. You
shouldn't have to wait much longer, however.
8:48 pm est
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Comics Review: Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #684
Anyone who knows anything about William Van Horn is aware that the great
Duck creator is something of a technophobe. Even I, however, was aware that
his antipathy towards gadgetry extended to the humble (at this moment in
time, anyway) cell phone. "The Phoney," this issue's last story,
gives us WVH's "take" on the culture of cellular communication -- and a sour
one it is, indeed. Finally convinced by his Nephews to hustle a hand-held
hollerer, Donald bungles through the inevitable snafus before finally coming
a major cropper thanks to a car full of rare cacti (don't ask). Were Don
WVH's only target, this would be an unexceptional example of a "spiral of
unforeseen disaster" story, but the balance of Bill's Luddite bile is
directed at the assemblage of Duckburgian morons who are seen chattering
about inane trivia as they trip over pedestrians, create havoc on the
highway, and even literally crush people beneath their feet (a fate visited
upon hapless Don himself at the hands -- er, whatever -- of a grossly obese
gabber). By story's end, Don has melted down and has been incarcerated, and
HD&L are singing a different tune about cell-tech, with one opining that
jail "sounds like the perfect place" for cell phones. Don't hide your TRUE
feelings from us, Bill...
Donald is featured in two other gag-stories in this ish, Carl Barks'
"Thug Busters" (1945) and "For School the Bell Tolls," an
Egmont story drawn by Vicar and scripted by David Gerstein. David tells me
that this latter effort was one of his earliest scripts, and that fact is
apparent in both the enthusiastic tone and the multiple references to the
likes of Tintin, the Marx Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, and, of
course, Barks. Peel away the clever dialogue, however, and this is your
garden-variety "expert" story, albeit one in which Donald gets a helpful
nudge on the way to "expert" status. Rehired as a truant officer -- in a
followup of a story that appeared 119 issues ago!!! -- Donald takes the
advice of the principal and "thinks like a truant" to catch perpetrators.
He overdoes it (of course) when he mistakes a bunch of kids attending a
blimp airshow for a crowd of truants. The gaffe leads to the destruction of
the school building and the expected manhunt for disgraced Don. In "Thug
Busters," it's HD&L who are tinkering with law enforcement, in this case as
junior detectives. For no apparent reason other than to irritate the boys,
Don nearly drives them nuts with crazy clues, but HD&L see it through and
end up collaring a wanted criminal. This story has a wackier feel to it
than most Barks tales of the era, with Donald even resorting to a
stereotypical "nutty Napoleon" disguise at one point.
Bill Walsh and Floyd Gottfredson's "Mickey's Dangerous Double"
concludes in this issue. While I still regard the tale as being a notch
below Walsh's more imaginative efforts, there are a few arresting features.
What did Mickey's evil double DO, exactly, to reduce the
previously kidnapped Pluto to a shivering, emaciated pile of tattered fur?
Shock treatment? Starvation? This is nasty stuff even coming from a writer
who killed several villains in earlier stories. Miklos (yes, we do learn
the evil one's name) employs a mechanical human -- uh, dogface -- costume to
impersonate Chief O'Hara, no doubt making the Brain jealous. Then there's
the pursuit/battle sequence in a warehouse filled with oversized toys, a
gambit fully worthy of Bill Finger. To top it all off, Mickey and Miklos
tussle on a rooftop, with the latter clutching a butcher knife with
murderous intention! Think you'll see Mickey involved in THAT
activity in a future Disney production?
The book is filled out with "Br'er Rabbit's Secret" (shouldn't that
last word be misspelled as "Secrut"?), a Paul Murry-drawn Cheerios
Giveaway Comic from 1947, and Stefan Petrucha and Tino Santanach's
Fethry Duck opus "Simian Similarity." The swamp-folk opus is
very much in the spirit of the animated material in Song of the South,
with Br'er Rabbit getting himself ("hisself"?) in a pickle thanks to his big
mouth, then wiggling his way out thanks to some quick thinking. The use of
a lion as a supporting character seems a little out of
place, though. The Fethry story finds the chic-crazed canard trying
to regain what he thinks was a past life as an ape, leading
to standard attempts at simian-style activity. It's OK, but not
particularly original or inspired.
6:09 pm est
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I'm teaching a murderous 16 hours this semester, with all four classes --
all of which meet twice a week for two hours -- packed into the
Monday-Thursday block. As a result, when I finally do resume my weekly
comics reviews, they'll almost certainly be posted between Thursday night
and Sunday night. I hope to finally get to the latest batch of Gemstones
(WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES 684, UNCLE $CROOGE 369) on Thursday or
Friday. Due to space limitations on our new web site, however, I may have
to suppress my natural instinct to "ramble on" and keep things short and to
I mentioned in the previous post that I'd started a new collection at this
past weekend's Baltimore Con. It's the Gold Key SCAMP title. Don't laugh.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a sucker for "feisty young male
characters" in the vein of Lady and the Tramp's sole non-distaff
offspring. I also love Al Hubbard's artwork in the early stories. (The
later efforts by the likes of Jack Manning and Vic Lockman, not so much.) I
already have a lot of SCAMP material in back issues of COMICS AND STORIES,
but this is the first time I'm going after the title itself. I did fairly
well this weekend, nabbing about 10-15 issues out of the total 45-issue
run. The rest I will probably try to nail on the Internet. The Dell Comics
SCAMP run is a little pricey and probably out of my reach, but I may try to
find Dell issues with stories that were not reprinted later. Once SCAMP's
done, that'll probably be IT for me insofar as purchases of back issues are
9:09 pm est
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Just got back from Baltimore Comic-Con...
My first "official" blog post... just to (1) let you know that the site is
operational and (2) whet your appetites for what's to come by noting that I
just returned from the Baltimore Comic-Con. No big, juicy stories to
report, but I did make some purchases to start a new Disney collection (I'll
let you know of WHAT later this week) and had a chance to visit with Joe
Torcivia and David Gerstein. More anon, once Nicky and I can verify that
this ****ing Web site is actually doing what we want it to do.
4:07 pm est