Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween Hash-Over (Comics Reviews: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #695 [August 2008, Gemstone Publishing] and DONALD DUCK HALLOWEEN MINI-COMIC)

Every October 31st, talk-show host Michael Medved and his wife Diane put aside the issues of the day and argue the pros and cons of America's zaniest, most content-free holiday. Michael thinks it's a waste, Diane insists otherwise. Well, the lead stories of both of these Halloween-themed comics (you shouldn't let the August cover date of WDC&S fool you by this time) appear to be engaged in the same wrangle, using Donald as a cat's-paw. Marco Rota's "The Halloween Huckster," the lone offering in Gemstone's annual trick-or-treat giveaway, finds Donald ridiculing the holiday as kid's stuff and wondering how any adult could take it seriously. The grinning, glad-handing Kasper Kanterville, door-to-door "spooktacular salesman," spins Don's attitude around 180 degrees by displaying his quick-change costume transformations. Soon, Kasper and Don, clad in costume, are darting around Duckburg racking up scares by the score, including "attacks" on Scrooge, Daisy, Grandma, and Gyro. They finally meet their match, so to speak, when they invade a supposedly "haunted" house that's been staffed by HD&L for the duration and stuffed with fake frights for passersby. From the beginning, Kasper seems rather too enthusiastic for his narrowly defined job, so the ultimate revelation of his "true identity" is not really a surprise. For a Rota gag story, however, this is pretty decent, and much of the credit should go to David Gerstein, who provides the dialogue. Rota's plotting is sufficiently uneven that it needs the support of a strong dialoguer, and David certainly comes through here, peppering the dialogue with references to color-coded terrorist alerts, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Barack Obama (one scare at a time, please, David!). The tale is an excellent choice to advertise the advantages of Gemstone comics to newbie kids.

The contrast between Don's grumpiness at the start of "Huckster" and his behavior in Terry Laban and Paco Rodriques' "Trick or Treatment" in WDC&S #695 couldn't be starker. A fanged, cloaked Don actively participates in trick-or-treating (!), even pushing HD&L beyond the natural level of their willingness to engage in such activities. Don's desire to beg from just one more street lands him in a peck of trouble when he meets Bella, a sexy female in a witch costume. The nubile necromancette prevails upon Donald to be her date at a Halloween party (hopefully Daisy never gets wind of this), and the ghouls and goblins at the fete prove to be, you guessed it, the real thing. The unsuspecting Donald is soon being used as a pawn in a gambit to foil the schemes of Bella's horny (there's no other way to describe it) sister, who has used a spell to steal away Bella's vampire boyfriend but then quickly sets her overheated sights on Don (thereby giving Bella the chance to neutralize the other enchantment). Amazingly, Donald doesn't lose his temper over being exploited in such a fashion, though steam does come out of his head in one panel. I guess the "spirit of the holiday" was still in possession of him. The "spell" holds until Don is zapped home, at which point he has a delayed reaction and ends the story a quivering mass of nerves. Artistically, Bella has the same virtues and flaws as Rodriques' Lotus Blossom -- a real babe, but with disconcertingly "poofy" lips. I never liked it when Minnie displayed those big lips in the old days, and it's still rather a turn-off. Don's childish glee in trick-or-treating is sort of in character for him, I suppose, but I think that his cynicism in "Huckster" is a little more believable.

Most of the rest of the stories in WDC&S are Halloween-related by proxy, with one major exception. That would be Romano Scarpa's "The Sacred Spring of Seasons Past, part 1", dialogued with flair by Jonathan Gray. Atomo Bleep-Bleep, having been introduced to American audiences in MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES #11, makes his debut in a standard comic here. He, Mickey, and Chief O'Hara's absent-minded, antique-dealing cousin Heath end the table-setter in hot pursuit of a Native American clad in prehistoric garb who's made off with an artifact that could unlock the secret of how North America was settled via Alaska -- not to mention provide a key to finding the immigrants' treasure horde. Unbeknownst to the trio, the thief has stowed away in their rickety biplane (where's Launchpad when you need him?). The story has that tell-tale Scarpa weirdness smeared all over it but looks very good otherwise. Elsewhere... Tom McKimson draws a good BRER RABBIT story from 1946 in which the bun visits a witch to get his mental mojo back. Turns out he never really lost it. Carl Barks' "Going Buggy" (1947) is related to Halloween only in the sense that HD&L and Don both get to dress up in wacky costumes. HD&L get most of the duty, donning bug costumes to convince their uncle that his home-brewed bug spray has created mutant vermin. Don gets wind of the subterfuge and scares the bejeezus out of the boys with a bird costume. He gets a rump full of buckshot for his pains but does come out on top in the (ouch!) end. Don's "win" is entirely justified in this case, of course, because the boys started the whole thing. Finally, Kari Korhonen and Vicar dish up a one-page gag in which Donald forces HD&L (who are wearing the same Halloween costumes they sported in Barks' "Trick or Treat") to leave their treat-friendly neighborhood and even -- horrors! -- suggests that they skip the usual door-to-door routine entirely. Don isn't being a Scrooge or the Halloween equivalent thereof; he's merely redirecting the boys' attention to Grandma Duck's "one-stop trick-or-treat pigout!". What fun, a pro-gluttony gag. Wasn't the point of those Halloween mini-comics to discourage people from giving kids too many sweets?

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