Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Irritant Jones (Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #693 [June 2008, Gemstone Comics]

The only thing more intimidating than this issue's cover -- in which a menacing Neighbor Jones bears down on a desperate soccer-ball-dribbling Donald – is the prospect that Don's eternal antagonist actually fancies himself a soccer enthusiast. Next thing we know, he'll be taking over as sponsor of The Riverside Rovers. The "classic" and contemporary Jones are both featured here, with Carl Barks' 1944 story "The Purloined Putty" and Michael T. Gilbert and Paco Rodriquez' modern confection "The Odd Couple" bookending the issue. Both tales are chock full of gags more suited to an animated cartoon, though Barks' effort has a nastier edge to it. Gilbert (who seems rather above using such a trite and obvious story title) dumps Don and Jones onto a cruise ship as the unlikeliest of cabin mates. Battles over the possession of waffles, of all things, put the two neighbors at loggerheads. After Jones (in a somewhat contrived fashion) falls overboard while sandwiched inside an inner tube, the captain and other passengers quickly suspect Donald of foul play. To clear his name, Don goes to Jones' rescue, but the duo must contend with an exaggeratedly cartoony shark before they can get back to peaceful battling on board ship. "Putty" finds Donald and Jones at war over a precious can of caulk. The back-at-cha gags escalate until both reprobates are sunk in a pit filled with the gooey stuff. Leaving aside the obvious question of how Don and Jones can be expected to breathe for the duration while covered with hardened putty, this is pretty much the quintessential Barks Jones story. Well, that, or 1943's "Good Neighbors." Your mileage may vary.

Mickey also features in a pair of stories here, though the spotlight on the second actually falls more on faithful Pluto. Noel Van Horn's "Prometheus" finds Mickey, Horace, and Noel's oddly coherent and grammatically correct Goofy caught out in the wilderness with a storm coming on. No problem, it would seem, as each character has a special talent to employ for just such an occasion: Mickey is a whiz at finding safe campsites, Horace can gather firewood like nobody's business, and Goofy has "the power to ignite the densest wood!" This is a "Pride goeth" sitch if I ever saw one, and, sure enough, the trio of overconfident outdoorsmen barely manages to survive the night, thanks to a series of potentially deadly blunders. Mickey ends up being the "fall guy" of sorts, but only because his goof happened to be the last -- and the most destructive. The much sedater "Once Upon a Dog," by Jeff Hamill and Cesar Ferioli, is a "Rashomon-comes-to-Mouseton" scenario, with Mickey, Goofy, Minnie, Clarabelle, and Horace all claiming to remember how Mickey came to acquire his beloved pooch – and each of them getting the story only partially right. Pluto tells us… or should that be "thinks us"?... the real scoop on how he helped to save Mickey from death at the hands of Pete and subsequently "adopted" his master. Ferioli sculpts Pete and his unwilling seaman henchman in classic 1930s style, befitting the era that saw Pluto's real debut, and he also tributes Pat McGreal by drawing him into the story as a butcher victim of puppy Pluto's food-filching.

Thanks to LAST KISS, John Lustig may be better qualified to write a DAISY DUCK'S DIARY entry than anyone ever has been, and he's in top form in this ish's "Are You Really You?", drawn with great panache by Daan Jippes. Daisy and a Donald attend a masked ball where they run into a "hussy" (so labeled by an angry Daisy because she's wearing the same dress as Don's prize-hungry girlfriend) – and her husband, a lookalike for the costumed Donald. Donald, for his part, is petrified at the thought that his superior in the "Manly Men Marching Society" might spy him in his effeminate getup. Let the mistaken identities and misunderstood gestures commence! Lustig's "calm and rational" "diary entries" contrast dramatically with Daisy's actual behavior. Jippes' rendering of a ballroom-girdling fight brings Barks' famous "Back to the Klondike" panel of Scrooge's fight in the Black Jack Ballroom immediately to mind. Lightweight stuff, but very expertly done. A 1947 LI'L BAD WOLF story drawn by Paul Murry fills out the book, and it's not half bad itself, as Zeke finds trouble when he attempts to swipe from JACK AND THE BEANSTALK and con Brer Bear out of his cow in exchange for supposedly "magic" beans. At this early stage of his career, Brer B. appears to have a little more brain power than expected. Still, this early melding of the "Bad Wolf" and Song of the South universes holds promise that was amply fulfilled in subsequent years.

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