Last week's Boom! releases marked a watershed in American Disney comics history. The company's decision to shift the ongoing Ultraheroes and Wizards of Mickey story lines into their own eponymous titles may not appear to tempt fate in the dramatic manner of the Saints at the start of the Super Bowl's second half, but it definitely represents a gamble. "Themed" books with familiar Disney characters assuming unusual roles have long done well in Europe, but never have they replaced traditional titles in the manner that WIZARDS OF MICKEY has now supplanted MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS in America. Should these new books outsell MM&F and WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, will Boom! shift en masse to a "themed" approach, revamping even UNCLE $CROOGE and WDC&S and limiting "classic" material to its pricey hardback collections? That would be a "sea change" surging beyond even Disney Comics' introduction of TV-based titles and ROGER RABBIT releases in the early 90s.
In its opening 14 pages, HERO SQUAD #1 bravely faces the "New World" -- and quails ever so slightly. Though described as a "super-slugfest," the latest chapter in the "Ultramachine" saga features hardly any violence at all, super or otherwise. Indeed, "Iron" Gus Goose foils the attempt of John D. Rockerduck (aka "Roller Dollar") to locate Ultrapod-6 by doing nothing more than falling asleep and discombobulating Rockerduck's "cyborg-miners" with his snoring! Fethry "The Red Bat" shows a little more initiative, scandalizing the Pod-5-seeking Phantom Blot by tromping on The Blot's obsidian instep after all manner of "Bat-repellers" have failed to foil the villain. (I thought The Blot's most recent appearance had established that his body is liquid in nature? Fethry's folly is nicely reminiscent of a Warner Bros. or Darkwing Duck gag, regardless.) Elsewhere, The Beagle Boys again screw up Scrooge's attempt to escape The Sinister 7's clutches, while Donald and Daisy, still clueless to one another's crushingly obvious secret identities, meet in Duckburg and bicker in approved Duck Avenger/Super Daisy style. Really, that's all there is to this "collector's issue" insofar as Ultraheroes material goes. Even the artwork, by Roberta Migheli, falls well below the series' genially disheveled, eminently surmountable standard. Boom! probably could have picked a better moment at which to launch HERO SQUAD than this.
The ish's big surprise comes after the Ultraheroes segment, when the "powers-that-edit" abruptly decide to provide some much-needed historical perspective and announce a new subfeature detailing "the secret beginnings of your favorite Ultraheroes!". Better late than never! Taking the first bow is Super Goof in Bob Ogle and Paul Murry's "The Thief of Zanzipar", from SUPER GOOF #1 (1965). Actually, SG had made a couple of appearances before this "origin tale," but this story firmly establishes the Super Goobers as the one true source of Goofy's powers and gives SG his first "official" adventure. The amusing script and first-class Murry artwork are pleasant reminders of Gold Key's golden years. Two problems "grody" up the Goobers, however. First, we only get the first nine of the story's 16 pages, meaning that we'll have to wait an extra issue before another Ultrahero gets his or her chance to shine. Second, Goofy's face is, I kid you not, a light purple in color! (Cue Pauley Cracker squawking: "Maybe he ate too many grapes!" It's a Kimba in-joke, and, yes, they do exist.) I suppose that's better than Goofy the Genie's entire body being colored blue for the WDC&S #584 reprint of the 1960s story "A Lad 'n His Lamp," but it still looks really, really peculiar, especially since no other character in the story gets a mauve makeover. Colorist Eric Cobain needs to look into this before worried fans begin to write in offering to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Goofy.
If HERO SQUAD stumbles a bit out of the gate, then WIZARDS OF MICKEY -- once you get past the well-designed logo -- tromps on the reader's face and laughs in the process. Well, at least for a brief moment. The narrative quickly wraps up the "Team Diamond Moon" subplot in fairly slick fashion, giving "Princess Minnie" a back story and permitting Mickey a moment of true nobility to boot, but then hoots with derision in the faces of those who've complained of Boom!'s awkward handling of splits in its chapter arcs: "Stay tuned for the next episode... See you here soon! Like now! No seriously, turn the page!" Then follows the title page of the next chapter, "The Dragon's Nest." The only good thing about this remarkably inartful editorial decision is that it doesn't involve any misspellings. "The Dragon's Nest" itself is fine, with "Wizards of Mickey" outpointing a team of... erm, they kinda look like Muppets, I guess... for a "light diamagic" and forging ahead to isolated Crow Fortress to fight for the "sleep diamagic" (though Goofy's lullabies may work just as effectively, at least on animals). The "Lord of Deception," meanwhile, thinks that he may finally have a lead on the location of the Dragons' Kingdom, thanks to the imprisoned Nereus' unwitting assistance. I must admit to being surprised by the speed with which "Team Diamond Moon" was discarded -- I had expected them to become steady allies of "WOM," at the very least -- but perhaps Minnie, Daisy, and Clarabelle will reappear in later chapters. Frustratingly, the inside front cover of the book boasts what appears to be a map of the setting for these sorcery stories, but it's too small and faint to read. Why not create a fold-out version as a keepsake of this first issue? That would have been a great way to attract attention from the casual rack-browser. Leaving aside the painful editorial leg-pulling, WIZARDS OF MICKEY continues to rival the "Double Duck" arc in DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS as the best of Boom!'s "New Direction" material.