Saturday, October 4, 2008

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #694 (July 2008)

Gemstone finally shifts into "catch-up" mode in this issue -- not in the cover date, but in the hastily revamped contents of what is now technically a "September" issue. Along with the classic Walt Kelly cover featuring teacher Donald creating impromptu dunce caps, we get a pair of Duck stories with distinct "schooltime" themes, albeit not in the lead slot. Pride of place instead goes to William Van Horn's "Lost and Clowned," a genial take on the tried-and-true "mastery story" that has the lazy, yet self-assured, ambience of a Bing Crosby solo. Donald excels in business as a master finder of lost objects but gets off on the wrong track after he mistakes a vintage radio broadcast for a real announcement about an on-the-lam crook who's a "master of disguise." Given the painful potential of Donald's mistaking unlikely individuals for the nonexistent bad guy, Don gets off relatively easily, absorbing only a flip from a midget jujitsu artist, a brief dust-up with a dog, a load of garbage dumped on his head, and a brief ride on a laundry cart. He even gets to capture a real fugitive before all's said and done. Bill is now well and truly into his "mellow phase," but the tale's still mildly entertaining for all that.

Noel Van Horn's "Fame" finds Mickey opening a training school for aspiring young performing artists... naaahhh, Disney's already beaten him to it with all those doggoned High School Musical kids. Rather, this tale, like the "origin of Pluto" story in the previous ish, is a narrative told (and mangled) from multiple perspectives. Doc Static, Goofy, and Horace would like Chief O'Hara (and us) to believe that Mickey collared The Phantom Blot in what Horace calls, with typical understatement, "a display of courage unparalleled in the annals of heroism!" The truth is rather more prosaic, as a fuming Mickey, determined not to wear a mantle he doesn't deserve, explains to Minnie after the fact. Noel has a way of sticking Mickey into unusual, uncomfortable situations -- and not simply physical ones, as demonstrated in "Stir Crazy" with Mick's long sojourn inside the barge -- but his honesty here neutralizes any momentary embarrassment he might have suffered as a result of what Minnie correctly terms "the need for heroes."

In "A Niche in Crime," HD&L try to help Donald in his new job as a beat cop by regaling him with tales from the files of "Pup Cop," a comic-book dog clearly modeled on Scooby-Doo (check out the lettering on the cover of his title!), but Don resists their advice until he has little choice. The added "infor" helps Donald capture a would-be art thief who turns out to be drawing inspiration from the same source. Good story by Lars Jensen and Chris Spencer, decent dialogue by Dave Gerstein, and appealing art by Vicar, but the fact that Donald ditches his cop suit for "plain clothes" (read: his normal apparel) early in the story seems a bit peculiar to me -- almost as if Lars and Chris wanted to do a straight "Donald-as-detective" story but couldn't figure out how to make it work.

A two-page MINNIE MOUSE gag from 1932 by Floyd Gottfredson (the early Mickey really could be a pest, couldn't he??) and a slightly silly SUPER GOOF story by Donald Markstein pitting SG against a two-headed man provide appealing but forgettable "wrapping" for the issue's two school-themed tales. In Dick Kinney and Al Hubbard's "The Blackboard Bungle," Fethry's bringing the out-of-control (human) pupils in his "School of Progressive Self-Thinking" to Donald's home for a house-slash-field trip goes about as well as you might expect, though Donald does get a chance to literally get some licks in before he forces the well-scrubbed brats (who look like refugees from an issue of SUGAR AND SPIKE, or maybe THE FAMILY CIRCUS) out the door. Too bad Kinney didn't think to throw in some "New Math" gags, or else this might have been a perfect parody of the silly "do your own thing" schools of the 60s. As it is, it's still superior to just about any episode of Quack Pack you could name.  We kick back a couple of decades for Carl Barks' 1946 story "Playing Hooky" (aka "Freight Train to Pickleburg") as HD&L make an attempt (their first in a Barks tale) to cut school under Donald's watchful eye. The reason is a little more straightforward than in later stories in which the boys will claim that they've already gotten far more education from "life experience" than they could ever get in a stuffy classroom. Here, they simply "hate" school in the time-honored (?) tradition of pre-pubescent boys everywhere. HD&L elude several would-be interceptions by Donald and head to Pickleburg on top of a freight car, trailing 40s slang in their wake. Tossed off by an uncooperative crewman, they soon find themselves lost and hungry in the middle of what will undoubtedly become the Duckburg "exurbs" in modern times but is now just a literal wasteland. Donald brings them home, but not before donning a disguise and literally making HD&L choke on the bitter dregs of their would-be deception. The boys get the "last icks" in, however. It's old-fashioned Don vs. HD&L comedy that would have worked just as well in an animated cartoon provided that we could actually understand the Ducks' dialogue.

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