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Book and Comic Reviews

(2/19/06)

Donald Duck and Friends #337 (March 2006).  DD&F fetes St. Patrick's Day with a trio of good stories focusing on the evergreen (heh) themes of luck and leprechauns.  Kari "O'Korhonen", David "O'Gerstein", and Daniel "O'Branca" provide the prize of the lot with "Brother, Can You Spare a Pot of Gold?", in which a down-on-his-luck Donald joins covetous Scrooge, complacent Gladstone, and other Duckburgians on a "leprechaun hunt" to commemorate Cornelius Coot's legendary encounter with one of the wee sprites.  Donald's Nephews, adorably dressed in lepra-garb, are hiding in the woods, with the lucky person who catches one of them slated to win a ladle of lucre.  HD&L badly want Donald to win, but how can they do it without cheating to help him?  As it turns out, Don himself – almost without realizing it – furnishes his own means of winning the contest in a most unexpected way.  Yes, even with Scrooge and Gladstone involved, Don actually comes out on top!  The notion that the fate of Duckburg once depended upon an encounter with a leprechaun is a bit much, even as the excuse for a typically zany "Duckburg tradition," and Scrooge sours the milk by explicitly cheating even though he claims not to be doing so (whatever became of "making it square"?), but the mere fact that Donald triumphs in a venue where he has had so little success before – the no-holds-barred contest – is enough to lift the tale a few extra notches in my estimation.  Branca's artwork doesn't hurt, of course.  Just to make sure the Ducks' "universe" is reoriented back to its default setting, the back of the book contains a reprint of Carl Barks' 1961 story "Duck Luck."  Donald dismisses an exceptionally negative fortune he finds in a Chinese fortune cookie, but events conspire to convince him to beat a hasty retreat home to bed.  Ahh, that's more like it…  The sandwich story is Sarah Kinney and Xavi's "Leapin' Leprechauns," wherein Mickey jeers at the notion that leprechauns exist – only to face an apparent invasion of the maddening, décor-muddling beasties in his own house.  Unlike "Pot of Gold," the "surprise" ending here isn't much of one, but the story is OK overall.  The book wraps with "Byte Makes Right," a Disney Studio tale from waaaaay back (you can tell because the "modern" computer that's supposed to revolutionize Scrooge's office work sports reel-to-reel tape).  The main claim to interest of the two-page quickie is that it features artwork by Tony Strobl, who hasn't appeared in American Disney comics for a while.  Along with his work for Western Publishing in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Strobl also did stories for Disney's overseas Studio program, and "Byte" is one of them.

Mickey Mouse and Friends #286 (March 2006).  Pleaping plizards, Eega Beeva's back in a pbrand new pstory -- Stefan Petrucha and Rodriques' "Coming up Short."  Mickey's weird pal from the future provides the necessary technological marvel – an "interdimensional travel ring," to be precise – allowing him and The Mouse to sojourn off on an adventure in an unfamiliar location.  There are several hints before the end that the "travel ring" may be used in future adventures of a similar sort.  The gimmick isn't a bad one, and arguably necessary to sustain Eega's career as an occasional Mouse sidekick (personally, I think that the "wacko out of his time" gags that helped keep Eega afloat in the daily strip for so long have pretty much been played out).  This tale puts Eega and Mickey into a future (for Eega, actually, it's past) land ruled by a tyrannical shrimp named King Tonga, who amuses himself by shrinking unfortunates and forcing them to joust with one another.  Not ones to fail to measure up (hyuck) to such a situation, our heroes help some émigrés lead a rebellion against Tonga.  The tale makes good use of the old conceit that Eega's dog (actually, wasn't he originally a "thnuckle-booh"?) Pflip turns red when he senses danger, so Petrucha clearly did his homework for this assignment.  (In the Tonga of 2225, however, shouldn't the conventional pigfaces and dogfaces already be mutating into "men of tomorrow" like Eega?)  I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more stories in this vein.  Second on the menu is "The Insult Robot," a Dutch offering that finds Donald and Neighbor Jones separately commissioning Gyro to build robots that will sustain their argument whenever they run out of imaginative insults to hurl at one another.  There's enough libel-lobbing here to sicken even Don Rickles, and most of it is actually rather funny.  "Green Dogs and Jams", a 1953 Pluto story drawn by Paul Murry, and a one-page Chip and Dale gag wrap the issue.

(2/5/06)

Uncle $crooge #350 (February 2006).  Just in time for Valentine's Day, a reprint of Don Rosa's 1988 epic, "Last Sled to Dawson," arrives (on dogsled, no doubt) to remind us just how refreshing Rosa's dramatic appearance on the American Disney comics scene seemed back then.  The plot is relatively simple compared to those of Don's later superproductions, but the sheer enthusiasm with which Rosa attacks the Ducks' return to the Klondike and Scrooge's "reunion" with Glittering Goldie (her appearances in DuckTales being set aside for the nonce) is evident at every turn.  In his accompanying essay about the story, Rosa gives credit to the Tony Strobl-drawn 1950s tale "The Secret of the Glacier" for inspiring the notion of Scrooge trying to recover a long-lost dogsled frozen in glacier ice (with his adversary from "North of the Yukon," Soapy Slick, trying to beat him to what Soapy fully believes is a document that may give him control of Scrooge's fortune).  Early Rosa tales don't get much better than this.

Kari Korhonen, David Gerstein, and Vicar serve up another winner with "Date with a Munchkin," in which Magica, who's tried just about every magical scheme once to snare Scrooge's #1 Dime, hits upon the ruse of disguising herself as Daisy in order to pry secrets out of McDuck employee Donald.  Little does Magica/Daisy suspect that she may find it hard to extricate herself from her new role – in fact, she may end up liking it!  Towards the end of the story, Magica reveals a new side to her personality that will linger in the mind well after the tale is complete.  The Beagle Boys pick up on the "love" theme in the McGreals' and Maria Nunez' "Lovestruck Lugs," wherein they compete for the attention of a shapely human (!!!) female crook who claims to be down on her luck.  The book wraps with "What Goes Around" by Lars ("TNT") Jensen, David (ditto) Gerstein, and Marco Rota, which opens in such a bizarre manner that it reads like one of Rota's own, loopier plots.  Suffice it to say that when it is casually dropped on page three that Scrooge and Goldie are having a wedding anniversary (sic), you know you're not in the normal Duckburg anymore.  Needless to say, Scrooge gets it all straightened out before the end, but the story sustains a level of disbelief until the last couple of pages.      

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Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #665 (February 2006).   Old mixes seamlessly with new in this fine issue.  Bill Van Horn leads off with "A Fluid Situation," which finds "Silly Billy," in a bit of a funk of late, back at something close to the height of his powers.  When Donald, tormented by a dripping faucet, resolves to fix every single tap in the house, the Nephews are quick to don slickers and rubber boots.  They ultimately do need them, but not quite when you'd normally expect.  After a short Mickey story by Donald Markstein and Rodriques, we jump into the Wayback Machine for a 1945 Li'l Bad Wolf story and an unexpected (but welcome) reprint of 1953's "Donald Duck and Robert the Robot" by Dick Moores, one of the earliest lead stories in the Donald Duck title after the latter spun off from the Four Color series.  Moores' plot (he both wrote and drew this one) is loosely wound, to say the least, but I've always liked this yarn, because the title supporting character reminds me so much of Armstrong, the villainous robot in an early episode of DuckTales.  Robert is anything but villainous -- that wasn't Moores' style – but the visual resemblance is remarkable.

Next comes what in my mind is the prize of the issue: "Just like Pop" by Lars Jensen, David Gerstein, and an artist named Daniel, which marks the return of Scamp to American Disney comics!  Lady and the Tramp's son had a long, successful run in comics and on the newspaper pages, but his appearances in WDC&S have tended to be lumped in with the rest of the magazine's "children-oriented" backup features.  Anyone who knows how much I love feisty young male characters will probably understand why Scamp has always been an easy "sell" for me.  This tale does the character and his setting (in this case, correctly depicted as turn-of-the-century America) proud, and Daniel's art is utterly magnificent.  If Egmont refuses to turn out any more Scamp stories after this, they're missing a trick, in my opinion.  Speaking of returns, Floyd Gottfredson finally, at long last, comes to Gemstone's pages with a reprint of "The Picnic," a short Mickey daily strip continuity from 1931.  David Gerstein informs me that this is just a warm-up for more ambitious Gottfredson reprints to come.

The conclusion of Don Rosa's "The Magnificent Seven (minus three) Caballeros" backstops the issue.  This tale appeared to be leading up to a smashing climax, what with Donald, Jose, and Panchito hot on the trail of a legendary lost mine and a vicious native chief in equally scorching pursuit…  which is why I was surprised that the windup turned out to be so perfunctory, the characters' struggles with a giant (but comical) anaconda notwithstanding.  The chief's previous loss of a necklace that allowed him to hold sway over a band of natives was set up as if it would be a major plot point, but it's all but forgotten.  Rosa apparently finds the villainous chief such an uninteresting adversary that he doesn't even offer him the courtesy of a total defeat; the bad guy is instead swept over a spillway and into a tributary of the Amazon, rendering him incapable of hindering the pals' escape.  Donald, paradoxically, achieves the Nephews' original goal of sending him to Brazil to help him recover his confidence by… snapping under the strain of yet another screw-up and rushing the chief headlong.  Geez, Chip and Dale could have received treatment like that.  Even the "legendary Mines of Fear" turn out to resemble nothing so much as a cave full of wall-mounted jellybeans.  Sorry to say it, but the story ends up falling a little short of Rosa's original Caballeros revival.  

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Donald Duck Adventures #16 (Gemstone).  Given my love of Tolkien, you'd think that the featured story in this issue -- a full-scale parody of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with Donald in the Bilbo/Frodo role of reluctant hero – would rate my imprimatur as the best item of the lot.  Instead, I actually preferred the middle Mickey story, the McGreals' and Joaquin's "Pluto's Nose Knows."  Not only did this tale of the search for the legendary Golden Fleece – which, contrary to legend, may not have wound up in Jason's possession after all – prove quite entertaining in and of itself, it gave a welcome prime role to Pluto, who has not been featured very much of late in the Gemstone books.  Here, Pluto's uncanny ability to smell out "anything that has hide and hair" leads the unscrupulous foreman on Professors Dustibones and Wagstaff's archaeological dig in Greece to commandeer Mickey's mutt for a "seek and find" mission.  Dustibones, of course, was originally created by Floyd Gottfredson for the Mickey comic strip, but Wagstaff is a McGreal original who's making his first American appearance in quite some time here.  The story has nice pacing, plenty of action, and a dramatic/comedic scene in which we see just how ferocious Pluto can become when Mickey is threatened by someone.

The lengthy Tolkein parody, "A World Beyond," produced by Spectrum Associates (why am I getting a vision of a bunch of guys in suits sitting around a table?) and drawn by Cesar Ferioli and Jose Maria Manrique, is pretty good in and of itself, despite several scenes (the dwarves and the wizard "Sandalf" invading Donald's house, for instance) that are entirely too close to the original for my comfort.  Unlike Frodo, Donald finds himself racing to restore a magical device before time runs out.  In so doing, he realizes just what a fool he was to blow off helping his Nephews at a Junior Woodchuck campout in favor of running a gaming marathon at his house. (Don's a D&D fanatic in this tale, which explains the single-mindedness.)  I can't really quarrel with the story as executed here, but compared to the wonderful World of the Dragonlords graphic novel released last year, it seems just a bit hollow and mechanical.  The absence of Giorgio Cavazzano's artwork and Byron Erickson's "Heart-y" scripting are definitely felt.  Such "cutesy" touches as a bunch of forest animals straight out of Bambi and a grove of talking trees (not Ents, mind you, but real trees, sort of like the apple-chucking arboreta in The Wizard of Oz) rather undercut the more serious aspects of the plot.  Also, it may have been a mistake to split the artistic duties, letting Manrique handling the Duck characters and Ferioli the dwarvish/elvish folk.  Ferioli proved several times over in the "Mythos Island" serial that he could mate Mice and Ducks with mythological beasts (not literally, of course…) and achieve satisfying results, so why not let him do the same here?  Manrique's cartoony Donald doesn't clash as dramatically with Ferioli's characters as, say, Mickey and Goofy did with the realistic humans in the short-lived Mickey Mouse: Super Secret Agent experiment back in the 60s, but in a few scenes, at least, the contrast in styles is noticeable.   

Oh, there was a third story in this issue, wasn't there?  A relatively brief Uncle $crooge caper called "The Bronze Gate", from the pages of the Italian Topolino.  Honestly, it didn't leave much of an impression on me.  However, this must be the first time ever that Scrooge has had to graduate from school in order to tackle a treasure hunt…

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