Thursday, December 18, 2008

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #698 (November 2008, Gemstone)

A real hodge-podge of an issue this time, so I'll start with my favorite "supplementary" feature: the SCAMP tale "Useful Things (and How to Use Them)" by the creative team of Lars Jensen, David Gerstein, and Daniel Perez, who brought this character back to the American comics pages in such delightful fashion in WDC&S #665's "Just Like Pop." This tale is less ambitious than that one but no less charming for all that. Jock is ashamed to admit that he doesn't know the purpose of an old metronome he's found, so he and Scamp set out to discover what it can be used for. We get some nice cross-references to the rotating animal supporting cast of the SCAMP daily strip as a gopher and Cheeps the bird make brief appearances. Mr. Ger-r-r-r-stein tr-r-r-ries a bit too har-r-r-r-rd to mimic Bill Thompson's Scottish accent for Jock, but that's hardly a fault.

The issue actually begins with a couple of items that are almost as "dated" as the early-1900s milieu to which Jensen, Gerstein, and Perez have returned Scamp and friends. Carl Barks' "Donald's Bay Lot" (1944) features an "explosive" climax as Donald goes to rather extreme lengths to make a shabby beach shack, sold to him by a sleazy real-estate agent, a more attractive item for buyers. Since this was a wartime story, I'm surprised that Don didn't wind up arrested for unauthorized misuse of government -- or would that be enemy? -- property. Part one of the Floyd Gottfredson MICKEY MOUSE strip continuity "The Boxing Champion" (1931) casts us back even further in time. Mickey plays something of a secondary role here to Ruffhouse Rat, who bears the proud title of "heavy-light-weight champion," though how he earned it I don't want to think; he exercises while reading Shakespeare, gets battered by fence boards and chickens, and uses heavy hammers to crack nuts. Mickey, tasked with managing this paragon's next bout, learns to his dismay that the opponent is "gorilla-grappler" Creamo Catnera. The "coming next issue" blurb indicates that Creamo will wind up fighting Mickey, rather than Ruffhouse, so Creamo should at least get some sort of reasonable challenge, if only because Mickey is nimbler. I can't help but think that Gottfredson was influenced in some way by the contemporary THIMBLE THEATER Sunday strip's use of Popeye as a "sprize fighter"; many of the boxing and training gags are in the same spirit as Segar's.

The next story, "Donald Duck's Fouled-Up Fairy Tale", is the subject of this issue's cover, which highlights Daisy and her nieces. I wonder when April, May, and June last appeared on a cover? David Gerstein told me that this was one of the earliest stories he wrote for Egmont, and it's a good one, though a little contrived. AM&J, who are presently working through an obsession with fairy tales, decide to dress up and act out some of the stories even as the on-the-lam Beagle Boys seek to raid the Ducks' "getaway cabin" while clad in animal disguises. Interestingly, the Beagle Boys appear to think that lions qualify as common "forest critters" in this particular neck of the woods. Did I say a little contrived? I stand corrected. You can pretty much figure out what goes down from here. Donald seems unusually competent in this story, figuring out that the "animals" are actually Beagles in disguise and dispatching several of them with fairly extreme prejudice. Daniel Branca's artwork is great, as usual. David was still smoothing out the rough edges in this story -- he wouldn't get nearly as cutesy-wootsey as this in most of his later efforts -- but you can see the promise.

After Scamp and Jock's "metro-nomadic" search and a two-page BRER RABBIT story, we come to the ish's one undeniable stinkeroo, Pat and Carol McGreal and Vicar's DONALD DUCK story "The Fizzy Pop Fiend." Donald's obsession with the titular soda pop wouldn't be funny even if it were original, which it isn't; see Barks' "Bubbleweight Champ". "Unca Donald's got a problem!", HD&L intone as their addled uncle becomes increasingly desperate in his quest to acquire enough Fizzy Pop labels to make a killing in a sweepstakes in which the big prize is a year's supply of the sugary substance. The boys, Scrooge, and Daisy finally perform an "intervention" and have Donald sent to a health farm, where he's soon on the "Road to Wellville." But there's still the result of that contest to consider... Suffice it to say that this story is struggling for scraps of humor when it uses a massive belch as a centerpiece of one scene. We're also expected to believe that Donald's spilling some Fizzy Pop in a very small area of Scrooge's Money Bin obliges Scrooge to have "every bill" in the Bin dry cleaned. The McGreals appear to be aiming for a somewhat cynical ending, but it doesn't come close to the overall nastiness of "Bubbleweight Champ," where Donald was characterized as completely pathetic, rather than merely obsessed. "Fiend," I'm sorry to say, is one soda story that was "flat" from the very beginning... and, with that, I'll mimic Dale from the Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers episode "The Case of the Cola Cult" and bid you "soda-long" for now.

6 comments:

ramapith said...

Psst... psst! In my script, a whopping thirteen years ago, I asked Branca to draw a *mountain* lion, which would have been appropriate in American woods. I got the circle-of-life variety, and my editor liked the design too much to correct the impossibility.
I tried to mask it in the (somewhat-updated-for-Gemstone) dialogue by suggesting a zoo escapee, but that doesn't explain why the skin was first seen on the wall of a hunting lodge!

As for Jock's Scotch bur-r-r, I thought it was a bit extreme, too... when I saw it written out just that way in not one, but several Dell-era stories. But I decided to bow to precedent and mimic it anyway, figuring fans would expect it.
(But maybe not!)

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

You write: “Interestingly, the Beagle Boys appear to think that lions qualify as common "forest critters" in this particular neck of the woods.”

Weren’t these the same Beagle Boys who stole animals and thought to make a mint setting up a ZOO on the only place in the world where there was no zoo (Africa), in that Silver Age Classic Among Classics… Super Goof’s “The Vanishing Zoo”?

If so, David was writing them remarkably in character, wouldn’t you say? Kudos, David!

Joe.

ramapith said...

Hey Joe! Hey Joe! Nyuk nyuk nyuk!— er, oops! Wrong pop culture franchise. I mean... Hey Joe! Look at my comment before typing yours next time. (-:

I should add, by the way, that Pat McGreal hadn't read Barks' "Bubbleweight Champ" when he wrote his "Fizzy Pop Fiend." It just began with the question: "Hey, what if sugar addiction was treated like alcoholism," and the gags just flowed from there.
I didn't find the burp itself funny, but for me the real point was the accompanying non-apology, "I'm just a natural duck!" How many times has someone with a habit insisted their attendant oafish behavior was really how any well-adjusted person would act... and that the objections to that behavior were the really offensive thing?
"I tell ya... BRRAAAP! buddy! These guys complainin' about me... *Puritans!* HIC! Ever' last one of 'em!"

Chris Barat said...

David and Joe,

Perhaps Branca misinterpreted "mountain lion" to mean a lion inhabiting the AFRICAN mountains. (If so, then shouldn't the lion have been white?) ;-)

I think that the SCAMP writers (wr-r-r-r-riters?) kind of sidestepped away from the heavy burr for Jock as time went on. Even in "Like Father Like Son," one of the earliest (and best) SCAMP stories in the FOUR COLOR series, Jock does not speak with a burr. It lends an air of artificiality to the dialogue that the occasional "Aye" or "curse me kilts" does not.

Chris

ramapith said...

I ALMOST feel like suggesting that "curse me kilts" always struck me as a little extreme even for Scrooge, but I don't want to get battered by a chicken.

Joe Torcivia said...

On another topic, how about that ancestor of Scooby-Doo in page 1, panel 1 of the Scamp story?! Check out the head!