Sunday, November 16, 2008

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #696 ("September" 2008, Gemstone Publishing)

Two days hence marks the 80th anniversary of the release of Steamboat Willie and the debut of Mickey Mouse, the fount from whom all other things Disney flowed. What better way to celebrate the occasion than to... er, bring back a singularly irritating character to torment Mickey and his friends? Byron Erickson and Cesar Ferioli give Mickey "An Impish Bad Birthday" in this issue, and, if a complaints window for such "gifts" existed, I'm sure Mickey would be heading there even as we speak. The painfully derivative "imp from the 11th dimension" "blunks" back into Mouseton, causing Mickey to skip an entire day and thus miss his birthday. When Mickey tries to outsmart him by claiming that his friends had planned a later birthday party, the punk pixie turns everyone present into manifestations of their "worst personal nightmares" and deposits them in the monkey cage at the zoo. Several pages of tedious non-shenanigans precede the inevitable moment when the bumptious brownie is sent packing by being forced to unwittingly do a backwards recital of the phrase on his "magical jar." By that time, in the words of Gilbert Gottfried's Mr. Mxyzptlk, I really do "need a barf bag!" Ferioli's superb artwork is literally the only thing this story has going for it. Well, that, and a moment of curious candor from Minnie. After the imp has zapped Mickey and Minnie into baby clothes, the two mice re-raiment themselves and take off in pursuit of him, with Minnie commenting, "It's a good thing I keep a spare outfit at your house!" Hmmmm, how conveeeeenient! Spare bows I can perhaps understand, but what would a spare outfit be doing there, unless....?!?!

Luckily, part two of Romano Scarpa's "The Sacred Spring of Seasons Past", which takes up most of the last half of the issue, saves Mickey's bacon insofar as a fitting tribute is concerned. (A vintage Floyd Gottfredson Sunday-page reprint doesn't hurt, either.) The standard Scarpa strangeness more than manifests itself in the person of an obsessed sea captain in search of Moby Dud, an albino sardine. Rest assured, however, Cap'n Ahab (yes, really) has a significant role to play before story's end. Mickey, Atomo Bleep-Bleep, and absent-minded antique dealer Heath O'Hara wind up losing out on a really big haul, but, thanks to the generosity of the guardian "wandering ghost" of the long-lost Native American treasure -- who had been obliged to wander the earth to complete his bungled mission -- they do come out ahead on the deal. Jonathan Gray's dialogue is top-notch, as always.

Donald, as is proper on this occasion, has a low-key role in the issue. In Carl Barks' 1947 story "The Cantankerous Cat," Don and HD&L's plans to get a good night's sleep before a fishing outing are wrecked when a stray cat Don's bull-headedly insisted on taking in (much as he insisted on trying to tame an untamable wild colt in a story a few years earlier) howls from dusk to dawn. The trip goes on, with Donald and the boys punch-drunk from lack of sleep, but Don still hopes to get some use out of the annoying cat. He doesn't, of course. The funniest thing about the story is the weird dialogue that Don and HD&L use when they're trying to stay awake to fish. (I've never said anything like they did when I've been sleep-deprived, but I may have thought it.) Continuing on the theme of pestiferous animals, Travis Seitler and Mau Heymans' "Playing Possum" finds Donald trying ineptly to take care of an opossum (named Pogo, man, what a stretch!) the Nephews have brought home as part of a school project. As with Barks' cat, Don's knuckleheaded consideration backfires on him, as he takes the possum's "playing dead" for the real thing and winds up bringing a whole slew of others possums into his home to make up for the "damage" he caused. A David Gerstein-scripted BIG BAD WOLF story with an "election" theme (to wit: Zeke wanting to get elected to the Forest Council but needing the Three Pigs' votes in order to succeed) wraps an ish that would have been better had that annoying BATMAN supporting-cast ripoff not been on hand.


Joe Torcivia said...

I think this issue fails BECAUSE it promotes itself as an 80th Anniversary tribute for Mickey. Here’s an excerpt from my letter of comment to the issue:

“It’s actually unfair to showcase Erickson and Ferioli’s ‘An Impish Bad Birthday’ in what is presented to be a special “Mickey’s 80th Anniversary” issue, as indicated by the special logo on its cover! The manic machinations of the ‘Mxyzptlk of Mouseton’ only marginally merit a rematch with Mickey… but, to highlight this story for what should be an extraordinary eightieth celebration of a beloved icon, makes things for this animated octogenarian a little too… er, ‘octo-generic’.”

That said, it was a pretty good issue of WDC&S, but a particularly dismal special “once in a lifetime" – be that a toon’s lifetime OR a human reader’s lifetime – 80th tribute to Mickey Mouse. Two pages of Gottfredson? No Murry? Ferioli and Scarpa should be there – but so should Noel Van Horn… and let’s not even think about Bill Wright, Dick Moores, Tony Strobl, and Jack Bradbury. The Gold Key 40th Birthday giant “reprint tribute” of 1968 did a better job of representing “what Mickey comics were” to the American audience of the time.

Maybe Gemstone should have just slapped the “Mickey’s 80th Anniversary” logo on a special, more dedicated one-shot, like Gold Key did and “let WDC&S BE WDC&S”!

Oh, and to which “…annoying BATMAN supporting cast ripoff” do you refer? Was there a new Imp-on-the-Block calling himself “Mouse-Mite” or something?

ramapith said...

That's "Rat-Mite" to you, fellas!

("Unca Donald, won't you try again to remember how you made that DUCKMITE?" "Aw, shut up or I'll show you some duck MIGHT with my good right arm!")

I was a little surprised, too, when Byron's latest Mickey birthday story (originally created for Mickey's 75th) was as "un-special" as just another battle with the Imp. But Byron's done so much for me, and us, that I figured we'd use it anyway.
There was also the point that Byron hadn't done any other Mickey birthday story more recently.

As for "representing what Mickey comics were," I was rather hoist by my own petard. "Sacred Spring," featuring a prominent role for a ghost, seemed right to start in a Halloween issue, and we needed to use it before the end of this license period, as we'd already done some production work on it (originally for MMA 13). This meant it would have to conclude in Mickey's birthday issue; and with Byron's new story added in, too, there wasn't room for much else.

I, too, would have liked a special, more dedicated one-shot.

Chris Barat said...

Joe and David,

Oops! Wrong iconic superhero. :-)

Yes, the "portrait of Mickey" WAS a little sketchy for such a significant milestone. This is the unfortunate consequence of not having a dedicated Mouse-centric title, though perhaps the other characters could have genially ceded their space for the moment. I think "Sacred Spring" was good enough to lift the issue to an overall "B- or C" grade, though.