Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Ice" is Coming!

Stay tuned for my first "old-school" DUCKTALES comics review... "The City Under the Ice"!

Stevenson 13, Albright 6

The Mustangs improved to 4-0 for the first time ever by winning a second straight defensive slugfest on the road.  This time, they held off Albright despite amassing only 39 passing yards.  An all-offense, no-defense outfit during their first two seasons, the Mustangs now appear to be hurtling towards the other extreme.  They haven't scored more than 20 points in a game since the opener and continue to shuttle quarterbacks in and out (they've used three thus far).  But the D continues to play remarkably well, having surrendered no more than 14 points in the first four games.

Now comes the real test -- a road game at Lycoming, ranked #25 nationally in Division 3.  I'm pleased to note that the Lycoming Web site calls the matchup of unbeatens "the first big benchmark game" for the Warriors in 2014.  It's rather nice to have ascended to "benchmark" status.  Now, let's see if the Mustangs can take that next step.

Book Review: ALL THE GREAT PRIZES by John Taliaferro (Simon and Schuster, 2013)

If an award for "The Most Interesting Man in the World" had existed circa 1900, then John Hay would surely have been a candidate for the honor.  Along with John Nicolay, he was at Abraham Lincoln's side during the Civil War, serving as a secretary and gathering the information that would ultimately lead to a legendary 10-volume biography of the great President.  He served with considerable distinction as a diplomat in several important European posts, including France and Spain.  He was an eminence grise and a conscience of the Republican Party during its first 50 years, when the party dominated the national government.  In the last several years of his life, he served William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt as Secretary of State, in which post he proposed the famous "Open Door" policy towards China and negotiated various treaties that led to the construction of the Panama Canal.  Socially, he was an eternally popular guest and raconteur; like our present-day "Most Interesting Man," he might even have been the life of parties he never actually attended. 

Remarkably, Taliaferro's major biography of Hay is the first such effort in some 70 years, and the result is an extremely entertaining read, albeit one that resembles a canoe with oarsmen in the bow and the stern and a small load in between the two of them.  Meaning, there's plenty of material at the beginning and the end of the book, but Taliaferro has to strain a bit to fill the middle of the tome.  Not that Hay didn't perform some useful services during that middle period, but, when an author has to devote paragraph upon paragraph to an infatuation and/or relationship that Hay may or may not have had with the beautiful wife of a rather dull Senator, the reader gets the sense that the author is "reaching" just a tad.

Refreshingly, Taliaferro sticks mostly to the facts, avoiding crude "presentism" about some of Hay's decisions and influences.  The "Open Door," meant to preserve Chinese territorial integrity during a period in which the European colonial powers would have been more than happy to simply carve up the rapidly decaying Empire as opposed to being granted fair dealings in one another's "spheres of influence," was an example of enlightened imperialism, but it was imperialism, nonetheless.  Likewise, the establishment of the Republic of Panama in 1903, which allowed the U.S. to start digging the canal there, involved some skullduggery that even "The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut" might have looked at with some disdain.  Taliaferro simply lays out what happened and basically leaves it to the reader to form his or her own conclusions about the consequences.

What I like about Hay is that, while he was a consummate cosmopolite, fluent in several languages and at home in the capitals of Europe, he never forgot his roots in Midwest America.  In that respect, he had much in common with a number of the expatriates who came to Paris during the 19th century.  Spending so much time with Lincoln surely gave Hay a sense of moral sureness and a respect for common American wisdom that he never lost, no matter how far afield he traveled.

ALL THE GREAT PRIZES is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in American history... or even just a very interesting man.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stevenson 20, Lebanon Valley 14

The Mustangs finally got a game on home turf this past Saturday and improved to 3-0, hanging on to beat the Dutchmen.  SU played about as well as I've ever seen them play in taking a 20-0 halftime lead.  At the start of the second half, a Mustang back dashed some 70 yards for a touchdown, but the play was nullified for holding.  It was an omen.  LVC scored on two second-half drives, the last of which was a 9- or 10-minute marathon of a march.  Thereafter, it was a simple manner of fending the Dutchmen off.  The Mustangs drained five extremely important minutes off the clock in the late going with their running attack, and a final LVC pass was intercepted to ice matters.

Stevenson is on the road for the next two weeks.  I'm hoping for a split before the next home game on my birthday, Oct. 18.

Monday, September 22, 2014

POST-"DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE" PERSPECTIVES: "DuckTales Remastered" and "Scrooge's Loot"

DuckTales Remastered: The Cutscenes Movie now -- comments later!  (By which I mean, it would be a good idea for you to watch the video game's cutscenes before tackling my observations, since the latter will make more sense then.)


Evidently, some of the gamer magazine reviewers were not too pleased with the inclusion of "so much" interstitial material in this release.  For them, the play's the thing.  Those of us whose loyalty is to the animated series, rather than the mechanical imperatives of joystick manipulation, know better.

The running backstory here lasts 76 minutes, two minutes longer than the running time of DuckTales: The Movie.  It's only natural, therefore, to consider Scrooge and company's search for five long-lost treasures, and their ongoing entanglements with the Beagle Boys, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica de Spell, and several additional (and, in some cases, surprisingly familiar) foes, as being a "second movie" of sorts.  What is more unexpected is that the material hangs together well enough to actually merit a comparison to a theatrical feature.  This is to the game designers' credit.

The sequential nature of the treasure quests makes for a rather rigid narrative structure, at least throughout the majority of the game.  After a thwarted Beagle Boy raid on Scrooge's Money Bin reveals the existence of a map detailing the locations of the treasures, we're locked into a series of individual forays, separated by returns to the Money Bin, consultations with Scrooge's supercomputer (which is located under Scrooge's desk in this version, as opposed to simply "being there," as it was in the original Capcom game), and decisions as to the next treasure to find.  During each individual treasure hunt, Scrooge must literally put together a number of subpieces -- scraps of paper, golden coins, sections of the Gizmosuit, etc. -- before discovering the headlined bauble.  Once all the treasures are in place, the "allied" Flinty and Magica (a first -- and, as one might expect, a "marriage" that will prove to be very short-lived) intervene, and the Ducks' struggles against them constitute the remainder of the gameplay.  In the end, Scrooge winds up empty-mitted, but he doesn't mind, since he and his friends and family have gotten to enjoy "the adventure of a lifetime."

Scrooge's Nephews are captives on no less than three occasions during the game.  No surprise there, given that Scrooge's rescues are part of the gameplay, but I find the scenario somewhat ironic.  After all, many of Carl Barks' earliest DONALD DUCK adventures featured HD&L saving their Uncle Donald from one peril or another.  I could have asked for a bit more variety in the conditions of the boys' incarceration, however.  Each time they're jugged, HD&L are put in cages similar to the one they inhabited in "The Land of Trala La."  The only difference is that, the third time around, the boys are all in the same cage.

While the Beagles are first seen running en Rota-like masse towards the Bin, the only individual Beagles to get any game time are those old standbys: Big Time, Burger, Bouncer, and Baggy.  They're not searching for riches, but rather, an old painting that holds a "secret code" giving directions to the various treasures.  First on the "finding line": the Sceptre of the Incan King, deep in the Amazon jungle.  (Yes, this does make geographical sense... barely.)

While it does include both of the show's major second-season additions, many of the attitudes evinced by the characters are very much in the tradition of the first season.  The string of insults that Scrooge addresses to Launchpad will surprise no one who has seen "Scrooge's Pet," among other episodes.  Unfortunately, LP doesn't get any chances, here or anywhere else, to truly prove his mettle, serving instead as a means of (frequently bumpy) transportation from place to place.  The local natives who cede the Sceptre to Scrooge (and giggle behind Scrooge's back that the "treasure" is actually King Manco Capquack's old back-scratcher) look like miniature versions of the somewhat more, er, "traditionally depicted" locals of "Jungle Duck."  Their chief is extremely well-spoken, which should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone living in 2014.

Duckworth has little to do here other than chauffeur Scrooge to the Money Bin, stand around, and make dryly ironic comments.  Mrs. Beakley's plate is a bit fuller... literally.  At various times during gameplay, Mrs. B. appears OUT OF NOWHERE to provide Scrooge with sustenance (and, I presume, extra game points).  To me, this is additional evidence that the devoted nanny and housekeeper possesses immense innate talents, of which DT fans had the poor fortune to see only a few.

Phase two finds Scrooge, HD&L, and Webby in Transylvania, at the haunted castle of Count Drake Von Vladstone, aka Count Dracula Duck.  (Cue grumbling from Britishers in the audience.)  The McGuffin in play here is the Coin of the Lost Realm.  Both Scrooge and HD&L are in familiar form during this trek, with hard-headed Scrooge pooh-poohing the existence of "vampires, banshees" and similar ephemera (evidently, he's forgotten all about the events of "Ducky Horror Picture Show") and HD&L dissing Webby as "a big chicken."  Karma comes to call when the boys subsequently fall into a trap, and it's up to Scrooge to save their tail feathers.  The Beagle Boys, disguised as ghosts, wander around the castle and cause mischief for a while, but Magica is the (entirely appropriate) main foe here.

All of the surviving voice actors from the TV series perform more than honorably in their return engagements.  Alan Young sounds a bit subdued, as one would expect of a 94-year-old, but his Scrooge is right on point.  Ditto the HD&L and Webby of the 70-year-old Russi TaylorChuck McCann, Terry McGovern, and Frank Welker are themselves, nuff said.  As for June Foray... well, if her accent for Magica has slipped just a bit, then that is certainly understandable for someone who will turn 97 this fall.  The signature cackle and attitude remain pretty much intact.

Magica's appearance in the mirror is the occasion for what is, remarkably, Webby's first-ever comment about Magica, at least in an animated format:

Well, it IS in character.  Right, Joe?

The next two treasure treks add to our comforting sense of familiarity by directly retracing the steps of DuckTales -- and Barks -- adventures past.  First, Scrooge and HD&L visit Scrooge's African diamond diggings in search of the Giant Diamond of the Inner Earth, only to discover a panicked workers' stampede that seems -- and sounds -- mighty familiar:

Following Scrooge's mine-car descent to the depths, the Terri-Fermians make their reappearance.  They're pretty much identical to the multicolored clone-guys seen in "Earth Quack," though their King (once again, voiced by Welker) is a little more distinctively characterized this time around, and they refer to the diamonds that are interfering with their "Great Games" as "garbage rocks."  After defeating the King in a roll-and-crash-off, Scrooge has little trouble acquiring the Giant Diamond as part of a deal to take out the rest of the "garbage."

There's a bit of a continuity error in the setup to this sequence.  Before departing for Africa, Scrooge instructs the boys to "find Gyro," presumably to take him along for the ride.  The subsequent helicopter ride, however, includes Scrooge, Launchpad, and HD&L, but not Gyro.  Instead, Gyro is already in Africa when the Ducks arrive on the scene. 

The post-Africa Money Bin confab also features my favorite line in the "movie" (starting at time mark 35:05 in the video).  The line itself isn't exceptionally witty, but Russi Taylor's reading of it is.  She lays on the sarcasm with a trowel, as if she were channeling a line from the slightly more cynical Nephews of Barks' later period.  Or, perhaps Russi has spent so much time working on The Simpsons by now that she finds it easier to sound snarky, no matter what character she is voicing.  You be the judge.

Treasure number four turns out to be nothing less than The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan.  And the Ducks need to find it in Shadow Pass, no less.  The setup isn't quite the same as it was in the TV episode.  In a gambit reminiscent of Scrooge's reverse psychology in "The Golden Goose, Part 2," HD&L are left at home this time, while Webby is charged with "looking after them."  But Webby isn't to be put off so easily this time.  Instead, in the time-honored (if not wholly time-justified) tradition, she tags along.

Scrooge finds himself saddled with an additional passenger when he discovers Bubba Duck frozen in a block of ice inside a cave.  How Bubba got there (and why Scrooge was unaware of his disappearance and subsequent location) is more than I can tell, though unpleasant images of "one-way Himalayan rides" come to mind.  After being freed, Bubba subsequently has little more to do than run in cycles in the background, jumping up and down and pounding his club at random moments.  I don't know about you, but I find that to be extremely funny, especially considering Bubba's ultimate fate in the series.

Glomgold also makes his first appearance of the game during the trip to Shadow Pass, hurling insults and bombs at Scrooge and company.  His biggest moments are still to come, though.

In Shadow Pass, Scrooge discovers the (female) Yeti himself, though he needs some assistance from Webby in order to communicate effectively with it.  In a nice callback to the series, Webby claims to have gotten her ability to deal with monster-speak from the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook.  (And she doesn't even need to consult it in order to tell what the monster is growling -- most impressive.)  The "thorn" plaguing the Yeti turns out to be the Lost Crown itself.  A bit simpler than DT's original telling of the tale, but perfectly acceptable.  Launchpad manages to get in a variation of a much-beloved line from the TV episode when he claims, "Usually, it's me the girls go ga-ga for."

Incidentally, you know that Launchpad is having a rough day (or, a rough series of treasure hunts) when even Webby feels free to make with a wisecrack after Scrooge temporarily leaves her in Launchpad's care.

The fifth and final treasure takes us the farthest afield: the Green Cheese of Longevity (is that referring to Duck longevity, or to the age of the cheese?) is located on the Moon.  This time, Scrooge's traveling companions are Gyro and Fenton (with Gizmosuit in tow, in a natty new briefcase this time).  The new voice actor for Fenton makes the character sound a little "goonier" than seems proper to me.  Hamilton Camp's Fenton was enthusiastic and somewhat naive, but he wasn't "goony."  Scrooge's insults to Fenton seem a bit more justified here than they did in the series, which I don't think was the idea.   

At least this Fenton seems a bit more on the ball when it comes to protecting his secret identity.  He is well aware that Gyro might get suspicious when he disappears and Gizmoduck reappears.  Scrooge blows it off by making a derogatory reference to Gyro's deductive reasoning skills, but the fact remains that Fenton was aware of the issue.  (Of course, there is always the distinct possibility that Gyro learned the truth about Fenton when he rebuilt the Gizmosuit after the original suit was destroyed in "Attack of the Metal Mites."  Given how thoroughly the series had mucked up the issue of Fenton's secret ID by the end, perhaps we should simply pretend that this whole sequence doesn't exist.)

Scrooge bests Glomgold, the Beagle Boys, and a giant rat (yes, really) for the Green Cheese and returns to Earth... only to find that Flinty and the Beagles have HD&L and the other treasures in their possession.  Flinty has barely finished chortling over securing the treasures and thereby becoming the richest Duck in the world (exactly how he would do that is never made clear; perhaps he was planning on auctioning them off, or something?) when Magica blows in and assumes ownership.  Intending to use the treasures to revive Count Dracula Duck and "rule the world" (a parlay of similar opacity to Glomgold's), Magica takes HD&L as hostages, demanding the Old Number #1 Dime in exchange.  (It's always good to have a backup plan, especially when it should be the main plan.)  Flinty and Scrooge decide on a "Robot Robbers" redo and agree to cooperate in order to get HD&L and the treasures back.  If this isn't confusing enough already, just wait.

Scrooge and Flinty brave a couple of snares inside Mount Vesuvius -- with Scrooge doing all of the heavy lifting, big surprise -- before the showdown in Magica's lair.  (Sorry, Greg, but there's no pentagram in evidence this time.)  There, Glomgold proves that he's been playing a double game all along by swiping Old #1.  Magica uses the treasures to summon Dracula Duck, whom Scrooge must then dispatch.  Dracula's demise turns out to be surprisingly creepy, with the undead monster writhing in apparent agony before drying up to ashes and blowing away.

Magica's lair subsequently begins to fall apart (huh??), and HD&L's cage breaks, freeing the lads (ditto??).  To finish the job, Scrooge must recover Old #1 from Flinty and Magica, who are tussling over it.  Glomgold won't give the dime up until Magica hands over the treasures... and, here, I really must object.  Magica used the treasures to summon Dracula, so, presumably, they don't exist any more, just as Old #1 would no longer exist if Magica were to melt it down to become part of a magical amulet.  Glomgold must therefore be either exceptionally naive or exceptionally stupid, neither of which I can truly buy.  To me, this is the most questionable moment of the entire narrative.  The fact that it comes at the climax is most unfortunate.

Scrooge short-circuits the villains' somewhat contrived quarrel by barging in and recovering the dime.  Following a 'copter rescue from a fiery fate, we get a flyoff scene suspiciously reminiscent of the ending of "Send in the Clones."  Given that "Clones" was Magica's first major starring role *annoyed side glance at "Magica's Magic Mirror"*, there's a pleasing symmetry in this.

Back in Duckburg, the proverbial "whole gang" grins with glee as Glomgold and the Beagle Boys are carted off in the paddy wagon.  (Seeing as how Flinty was last seen hanging onto Vulture Magica's tail feathers, while Magica had transformed the Beagles into pigs before taking her leave of Scrooge's office, there are some obvious continuity issues here.)  We iris out on a reprise of a familiar gag from "Scroogerello."  Scrooge's short-bordered generosity is even narrower than it appears to be; he takes HD&L to the ice-cream shop while ignoring everyone else, including Webby.  Somehow, I don't think that the "wee lassie" would take that dissement lying down.  Perhaps she will defy Scrooge and tag along again?  (Let's not even talk about Bubba's reaction.)

The creators of DuckTales Remastered have a lot to be proud of.  With the perspective of a quarter-century and the help of advanced technology, they were able to revamp a much-loved video classic while using the cutscenes to pay a more elaborate, and highly knowledgeable, tribute to the series that inspired it.  That mythical 101st episode of DuckTales?  Close enough, I deem.

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Oh, there's another DuckTales-related video game out there, you say?

Actually, this one is of comparatively little interest to DT fans.  Alan Young and Terry McGovern do appear as the voices of Scrooge and Launchpad, and Flintheart Glomgold, Magica de Spell, and Ma Beagle are the villains who have absconded with Scrooge's (ugh) loot, but the gameplay features a generic Duck-boy character.  (HD&L are off visiting Uncle Donald, in case you're wondering.)  It appears to be a pleasant diversion for gaming enthusiasts, nothing more, nothing less.

Some DUCKTALES comics reviews should be coming your way next.

Book Review: THE COMPLETE PEANUTS, VOLUME 21: 1991-92 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Press, 2014)

In this latest collection, Schulz continues to consolidate the aesthetic ground he had regained during 1989 and 1990, when he started to fully exploit the potential that had been opened up by his decision to change to a variable panel format.  This time, however, most of the innovations center on the Sunday strips.  Schulz seems to have realized at some point that the Sunday format was every bit as much a candidate for a shakeup as the dailies.  He subsequently begins to employ far larger Sunday panels than he had ever used before (e.g. the crashing ocean wave of 4/21/91, the Victoria Falls panorama of 4/19/92).  In an even more radical departure, he begins to assume the virtually unprecedented role of an OMYUN (Omniscient Yet Unseen Narrator; (c) Joe Torcivia) and use narrative captions, an early example of which appears in the Victoria Falls Sunday strip.  A daily caption duly follows in the one-panel strip of 8/22/92.  Clearly, an old dog can learn new tricks, whether you feed him cookies (which Snoopy continues to guzzle here as if they're going out of style) or not.

Only one new character is included herein: Cormac, a little boy who meets Charlie Brown at summer camp and subsequently shows up in Sally's class, where he, not very artfully, contrives to interpose himself between Sally and her supposed "Sweet Babboo," Linus.  If subsequent appearances by Cormac will help to drive the by-now-tiresome "I'm not your Sweet Babboo!" six feet underground for good and all, then I'll be eternally grateful to Schulz.  Old routines, such as Snoopy's assaults on Linus' blanket, maintain their position in Schulz' arsenal, while Rerun, who will play a much more significant role later in the decade, begins to pop up once again in late '92.